Hugh Freeze opted to suspend junior starting safety Trae Elston for the first half of the No. 3 Ole Miss Rebels' upcoming contest against the No. 14 Texas A&M Aggies for what appeared to be Elston's kicking at Alabama's Kenyon Drake. The incident itself and the merits of the suspension aside, this is a decision that should have a big impact on how the Rebels line up against a powerful passing offense.
By our count, the Aggies have 17 different players who have received a pass this season. Kenny Hill leads all SEC passers with 2,110 yards (behind him is South Carolina's Dylan Thompson with 1,577) and three Aggies - Josh Reynolds, Malcome Kennedy, and Edward Pope - are in the SEC's top ten for receiving yards. As with every Kevin Sumlin team ever, these Aggies throw the ball all over the field early, often, and with success.
The Rebels, on the other hand, are very prolific at defending the pass. Ole Miss is ninth nationally in pass defense (152.4 yards per game), third in interceptions (10), second in passer rating against (82.11), and second in pass yards per attempt against (4.6). All of those marks are at the top of the Southeastern Conference. The Landshark defense is a very complete defense, but its strong point is in its secondary, of which Trae Elston is a vital part.
On the season thus far, the 6'0" 195 pound Elston has notched 14 solo and 10 assisted tackles, broken up two passes, forced a fumble and picked off a pass. He starts at the rover or free safety position in Dave Wommack's 4-2-5 defense, and does an excellent job of anticipating plays and shoring up the defensive backfield. He, like everyone else in this secondary, is an excellent tackler who is able to blitz or stop the run if he's called to do so, skills that are only bolstered by his incredible range.
So who is going to replace him for 30 minutes? According to the Clarion-Ledger, starting corner Mike Hilton will move back and get the start at the rover position against the Aggies. Hilton's a smart player and a phenomenal tackler for his size, but his move to rover leaves a huge hole at corner. I would also expect to see freshman C.J. Hampton to get a good bit of time at safety to spell Hilton or allow him to play his more natural corner position.
Speaking of that cornerback position, it's probable that either freshman Kendarius Webster, who has looked more than serviceable in limited time, or fifth year senior Cliff Coleman will get the start. Webster and Coleman had great games against Vanderbilt - the former saved a touchdown on an absolutely vicious tackle and Coleman was named the SEC defensive player of the week after a pick six. But that was Vanderbilt, a team that in no way has the passing game of a Texas A&M.
So it isn't an ideal situation for the Ole Miss defense, but if the Rebels can put pressure on Kenny Hill and rotate defensive backs around and see some freshmen play significant successful minutes against the Texas A&M receivers, then Ole Miss should be able to keep things from getting out of hand in the first half, a tall task against such a mind-bogglingly prolific offense.