In my season preview for Ole Miss, I predicted that the Rebels would open the season 4-0, host College Gameday for its matchup with Alabama, beat the Crimson Tide in a close one, and then head to College Station and lose a heartbreaker against Texas A&M. So far, all of that has happened except the loss to Texas A&M.
Do I still think Ole Miss is going to lose to A&M? Some thoughts on the game before I answer that…
Kevin Sumlin and Texas A&M have been all over the place this season. First, they marched into Columbia and absolutely destroyed preseason SEC East favorites South Carolina. At that point everyone looked at the Johnny Football-less Aggies and said, “These guys are for real.” Most media folks that predicted an A&M backslide thrust them to the top of the SEC pecking order after their showing against the Gamecocks. Looking back at that game, having seen how erratic South Carolina has been since, it’s hard to tell how good of a win that was for the Ags.
After running roughshod over hugely inferior opponents Lamar, Rice, and SMU, Texas A&M struggled mightily against a surprisingly strong Arkansas team, at home no less. Those who were ready to proclaim Kenny Hill and the Ags as the SEC West favorite took a few eggs out of the Aggie basket. Despite winning the game, you could see a few chinks in the A&M armor.
The Aggies then went to Starkville for a huge game against Mississippi State and got absolutely embarrassed. Their defense was exploited. Kenny Hill struggled in a big way. They simply had no answer for the Bulldogs.
The season that started out with a big bang (that now looks more like a pop) for A&M, in the span of the only two SEC games since the opener, has now become a big question mark. Where will it go from here?
Unless you’ve lived under a rock this week, you’re well aware that Ole Miss beat Alabama on Saturday. It was easily the biggest win of the Hugh Freeze era and arguably the biggest win for Ole Miss since the Eli days. In just one game the Rebels went from being, in the words of their newest, most famous fan Katy Perry, a dark horse to being a contender for the SEC West crown. The Rebels struggled through a tough first half but outscored the Tide 20-3 in a near perfect second half. The Rebel defense stole the show again, but Bo Wallace was the leader that every Rebel fan hoped he could be as he orchestrated three fantastic TD drives.
Having been at the Ole Miss/Bama game, I can say with certainty that there was no crazier moment in college football last week than when the referee stepped on to the field and uttered the words, “After further review, the ball was intercepted in the end zone,” referring to Senquez Golson’s game clinching interception. The entire stadium went ballistic. Grown men were sobbing. Students were throwing drinks in the air. Women in heels rushed the field. It was, as I predicted, Ole Miss’ moment. And the team, coaches, and fans basked in glory all through the night, next day, and will continue to do so until 8:00 on Saturday night.
When the Rebels take the field against Texas A&M this Saturday, the environment will be electric. Aggie fans still believe this team can win the West and the late kickoff will only increase their fervor (pronounced drunkenness). But what A&M team will show up? Yes they are mad coming off the loss against Mississippi State. Yes they will be fired up to potentially knock off a top-3 team. Yes they have the talent to beat Ole Miss.
But, despite picking the Ags before the season started, I think Hugh Freeze and Ole Miss are going to continue rolling and win this one for three reasons.
1) Texas A&M’s defense is mediocre.
The Aggie defense got lit up by Mississippi State. Dak Prescott went from Heisman hopeful to Heisman contender against A&M. I have a feeling Bo Wallace will be able to exploit their secondary with his talented group of receivers. The Rebel passing game won the game against Alabama. I think it does it again this weekend.
2) Ole Miss’ defense is only getting stronger.
The Rebels have the best defense in the country. They have been unstoppable, only giving up three touchdowns all season. That is absurd. Mississippi State has a talented defense, but this will be a whole new challenge for Texas A&M. If Robert Nkemdiche and the defensive front can get to Kenny Hill and rattle him early, he’ll likely make bad decisions that lead to momentum shifting interceptions by the stout Rebel secondary.
3) The Rebel hangover from the Bama win is not a factor.
Initially I thought Ole Miss would come into the A&M game cocky and prone to a loss. But I honestly believe that they are locked in and ready. The team understands that it is on the cusp of something unprecedented in Oxford. They aren’t going to lose this game due to lack of focus. The crowd could play a part in how the game goes, but this team, with their resiliency and poise, is going to come out, score early, and take the crowd out of the game.
This time next week, Ole Miss will be 6-0 heading into their matchup with Tennessee. The media will have stopped saying it’s a good story for lowly Mississippi to beat Alabama. Instead they will have started believing that the Rebels are ready to make a run at the College Football Playoff.
Ole Miss 35 – Texas A&M 24