Commentary by HottyToddy.com contributor Seph Anderson
1. Win the Clash of Titans: Ole Miss Defense vs. Texas A&M Offense
The Rebel defense will take the field against Texas A&M allowing only 10.2 points per game (No.2 nationally). The unit has only given up four touchdowns this fall, with only one coming with the first-string D on the field. Further, the Rebels have yet to allow an opponent to score over 20 points. In contrast, the Aggies enter the contest averaging 47.8 points per game (No. 1 nationally).
It will be a battle of wills, as a Rebel D allowing only 277.6 yards per game faces off against an A&M offense averaging 583.2 yards per game. In terms of the passing game, Hill’s 395.2 passing yards per game will be tested by a Rebel pass defense only allowing 152.4 yards per game through the air.
This year’s version of the Ole Miss secondary may well be the best that’s ever taken the field. If they can continue their stellar play at Kyle Field, “contain” Hill and co. and create a turnover or two, they’ll truly deserve to be called not only the SEC’s best defense, but the top unit in the entire country.
And don’t forget that collectively Ole Miss has created a turnover in each of its past 28 games.
2. Kenny Hill – Not Great Against High-Quality Opponents
While Hill has put up prolific numbers this fall, a look inside his numbers by individual game is revealing. Hill has thrown for 21 touchdowns to only 5 interceptions on the season, but he’s only tossed seven touchdowns to three interceptions against AP-ranked opponents in 2014.
Moreover, the dual-threat QB has amassed five picks over his last three outings, with three coming in the loss to Mississippi State. Solid they are, the Bulldog pass defense doesn’t compare to that of the Rebels.
As for his 171 yards rushing and this season. He’s averaged 11.2 yards per carry against non-conference clubs, but only 2.1 yards per carry against SEC opponents. If the Rebel D can contain Hill and get some pressure, QB Bo Wallace will be able to operate under much less pressure throughout the night.
3. Wrap ‘em Up, Rebels
To pick up the big road up in a hostile environment of 100,000+, the Rebels absolutely must continue to make that crucial “first tackle” and limit big plays like they have through the first five games.
The Rebels head into the contest only allowing 4.1 yards of offense per play (No. 5 nationally). However, Kevin Sumlin’s offense also ranks No. 5 nationally, averaging 7.5 yards per play on offense.
Only allowing opponents 3.6 yards per rush heading into the SEC West showdown, the Ole Miss run defense will face an Aggie run game picking up 5.9 yards per carry.
In terms of the passing game, Ole Miss is only giving up 4.6 yards per pass attempt (No. 2 nationally). However, they’ll be tested by Aggie QB Kenny Hill and his 8.7 yard per pass attempt average (No. 20 nationally).
The Ole Miss offense is going to score against this Texas A&M defense. However, if the Rebel D can flex its collective muscle and limit the Aggie offense’s efficiency, Hugh Freeze and Dan Werner can be that much more open in selecting plays early on that will build important, early confidence in Wallace.
5. Intangibles to Keep In Mind Punting Prowess
P Will Gleeson looking like a seasoned veteran, averaging 45.1 yards per punt in 2014 (No. 14 nationally), while the Ole Miss punt return coverage team is only allowing 2 yards per return (No. nationally).
Walton Waits for a Chance
If KR Jaylen Walton or others get the chance to field and return a kickoff, will the Aggies be ready? Heading into the divisional matchup, the Aggie kickoff team has caused 27 touchbacks which is good for second in the country. It’ll be interesting to see what a speedy Walton can do if given the opportunity.
Red Zone Dominance, By Both Clubs
Texas A&M has been remarkable in the red zone, having scored on 28-of-31 trips inside the 20. Specifically, 77.4% of the time, the Aggie offense has ended the drive with a touchdown (No. 8 nationally).
But watch out Aggie fans, because the Rebel D has only allowed three touchdowns in 12 opponent trips inside the twenty. Again, when push comes to shove, something has to give Saturday night.
Take the Lead to Half, and Likely Keep It
Hugh Freeze is 14-2 when leading at the half as Ole Miss Head Coach. On the other hand, Kevin Sumlin is 22-2 with the Aggies when leading at half and only 2-5 when trailing at half.
Ole Miss 38 – Texas A&M 24
As good as Kenny Hill is at making plays and keeping plays alive, he’s going to face a defense unlike anything he’s encountered thus far in his college career. The Ole Miss defense will be tested throughout the night, but a forced fumble or interception here or there Saturday night will be the difference. The Rebel D may let its’ first opponent eclipse the 20-point mark, but it won’t be enough. Look for Freeze to take a 7-10-point lead into the half and leave with the W.
Information pulled from Texas A&M and Ole Miss game notes.
Seph Anderson, Ole Miss alum, staff member and fervent Rebel, covers timely Ole Miss & SEC news.
He resides with his wife and their two young girls in Oxford, MS and serves at the Academic Advisor for the Early Entry Pharmacy Program.