Before two years ago, No. 3 Ole Miss had never signed a top overall football recruit. Before last week, Ole Miss had never beaten a team ranked No. 1 in any major college football poll. And up until now, the Rebs have never topped the Aggies. In six games against Texas A&M, Ole Miss is 0-6-0. The earliest contests were far enough back to not render them memorable for most living Ole Miss fans. The most recent two, however, still painfully linger as nail-biter home losses to Johnny Football-led squads.
This time, the task of beating the Aggies is just as tall, because while Kevin Sumlin's No. 14 Texas A&M team doesn't have the most dynamic college football player of the past two years, they do have the 12th Man at Kyle field. This Saturday night, 106,000 drunk, dorky Texans will be hollering their guts out, hoping to rattle Dr. Bo and the Rebel offense while throwing the Landshark defense off-kilter.
With the SEC West being the mind-bogglingly competitive division that it is, it's far from a travesty if the Rebels are to lose this one. Anybody is still in this thing with just one loss. Hell, it wouldn't shock us at all if Alabama and Texas A&M manage to find their ways into the College Football Playoff. That's just how talented the teams that make up the SEC West are (okay, except for LSU). But, if Ole Miss is to control its own destiny and place itself in the driver's seat of the toughest conference in the country, a win in Aggieland is crucial.
And, if this season is going to become the historic season that many Ole Miss fans think it can be, then the Rebels need to buck some trends and make a little history of their own. They've done some of that thus far, and we have no reason to think that can't continue this Saturday night in College Station.
Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images
How to watch
A&M's season so far
- at South Carolina - W 52-28
- Lamar - W 73-3
- Rice - W 38-10
- at SMU - W 58-6
- Arkansas - W 35-28 (OT)
- at No. 12 Mississippi State - L 31-48
3 key matchups
Aggie passing attack vs. a shorthanded Rebel secondary
Trae Elston couldn't have picked a worse time to get suspended for a half. The Ole Miss safety, who will sit the first 30 minutes for kicking at an Alabama player last week, is a critical piece in stopping an Aggie offense that leads the SEC in passing yards, passing touchdowns and completions. The Rebs counter with arguably the deepest and most talented secondary in the country (third in interceptions, ninth in pass defense, first in passing touchdowns allowed), but Elston's absence causes some temporary reshuffling. Cornerback Mike Hilton will slide back into the safety spot, with a rotation of Cliff Coleman and Kendarius Webster filling in at corner.
Ole Miss ground game vs. Aggie run D
Ideally, Ole Miss would pound the ball out for a half to keep the A&M offense off the field until Elston returns, but that's something they've been incapable of so far this season. Behind an O-line that's struggled to open running lanes, the Rebs are 12th in the conference with 144 rushing yards per game. Fortunately, Texas A&M's run defense is just as suspect -- they're allowing 177 per game (second worst in the SEC) and 4.19 yards per carry. Last week, the Aggies allowed State to average 5.6 yards per carry, while Ole Miss was limited by Bama to just 2.3 yards per carry. Something's gotta give.
Rebel O-line vs. A&M pass rush
For as much as the Ole Miss offensive line has struggled in run blocking, you have to give them credit for how well they've held up in the pass. They're middle of the road in the SEC with nine sacks allowed, but that's pretty good when you consider the bad ground game has forced the offense into a disproportionate number of passing downs. Laremy Tunsil and Co. will have their work cut out for them against A&M, which has gotten to the quarterback a conference-high 19 times.
Players to watch
Hill Trill, A&M QB
You all know who he is. It took all of one game for the sophomore to make Aggie fans forget about Johnny Football, setting a school record with 511 passing yards in the opener against South Carolina. He piled on the stats in the early going against lesser competition (he ranks in the top three nationally in passing yards and touchdowns), but was slowed in his first real test in Starkville last week. He threw three picks and two of his four touchdown passes came after the game was already a route.
Josh Reynolds, A&M WR
You can take your pick from the Aggies' prolific stable of wideouts -- playmaking senior Malcome Kennedy, former blue chip recruit Ricky Seals-Jones and aptly-named freshman Speedy Noil -- but I'll go with Reynolds. The 6'4 sophomore is a scary downfield threat, leading the team with 402 yards receiving and boasting 17.5 yards per reception. He's already piled up an absurd seven touchdown grabs, six of which have come in his last four games.
Myles Garrett, A&M DE
Garrett leads the Aggies' pass rush with 6.5 sacks ... as a true freshman. Halfway through the season, the former five-star is only 1.5 sacks away from Jadeveon Clowney's SEC freshman record. But as talented as Garrett is, he's still raw, and has been slowing down as teams begin to account for him by chipping with tight ends and running backs. He'll meet a stone wall if he tries rushing against Tunsil on the left side, but could potentially cause problems against Fahn Cooper and Robert Conyers on the right.