When Ole Miss (4-5, 1-4 SEC) travels to College Station this weekend to take on No. 8 Texas A&M (7-2, 4-2) both teams are meeting at a critical point in the season seeking to put a much-needed win on the board.
The season for the Rebels is in a bit of a tailspin after starting out 3-2 with two losses coming from then- No. 4 Florida State and No. 1 Alabama. Over the last four games, Ole Miss has dropped three in a row to No. 22 Arkansas, No. 23 LSU and No. 15 Auburn. A needed win came against Georgia Southern last week, but a big on-the-field loss was suffered when senior quarterback Chad Kelly went down with a torn ACL. The Rebels need to win two of their three remaining games – Vanderbilt and Mississippi State follow Texas A&M – to become bowl eligible.
Aggie fans had hoped the November slide experienced over the past three seasons would disappear this year. After fantastic starts, November has been a tough month for Texas A&M, posting a 6-7 mark dating back to 2013. Now the Aggies have to try and turn their fortunes around without quarterback Trevor Knight. Knight injured his shoulder diving into the end zone in last week’s loss to Mississippi State and will miss the rest of the season. With Ole Miss, UTSA and LSU left on the schedule, Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin will have to find some magic to close out the season on a winning note.
The Aggies have a slightly below average defense and a top-20 running game to fall back on against the Rebels. Backup quarterback Jake Hubenak has enough relative game experience to help keep the passing game humming. Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze may gamble the future away for the present, as he must decide whether to pull the redshirt of five-star quarterback Shea Patterson or use redshirt freshman Jason Pellerin against the Aggies. The Rebels’ offense has been limited this season and now is in need of a spark with Kelly sidelined the rest of the way.
Ole Miss at Texas A&M
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 12 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: SEC Network
Spread: Texas A&M -10
Three Things to Watch
1. Ole Miss Starting Quarterback
Whoever Ole Miss puts under center will receive plenty of heat from Texas A&M’s front four led by ends Myles Garret and Daeshon Hall. Redshirt freshman Jason Pellerin has attempted a total of 13 passes in limited duty this season, completing five for 53 yards and two touchdowns but also three interceptions. Shea Patterson has zero attempts this season as the plan was to sit him for the duration, but Rebels head coach Hugh Freeze is high on his true freshman. If Patterson were to play, how will he respond to the Aggies’ pressure and how could a potential bad game impact him going forward? Is Freeze really going to start a true freshman on the road against a top-10 team?
Chad Kelly was Ole Miss’ offense, making plays with his arm and his legs. The Rebels are 15th in the nation in passing (316.4 ypg), but all bets are off on how this offense will function with two inexperienced options at quarterback.
2. Texas A&M’s Rushing Offense
On paper, the Aggies should run away with this matchup on the strength of a ground game that produces 234 rushing yards per contest. The Rebels are one of the nation’s worst at stopping the run, ranking 117th out of 128 FBS teams at nearly 240 yards per game allowed. But for Texas A&M, the issue is that Trevor Knight was a part of the running game, averaging nearly 65 rushing yards per game on a combination of designed runs and improvisation. Now more of the workload will fall on leading rusher Trayveon Williams along with backup Keith Ford.
If A&M cannot gain traction on the ground, Jake Hubenak will be forced to make plays with his arm. Hubenak is a more accurate passer than Knight (60 percent completion rate vs. 52 for Knight), but he does not have a lot of FBS experience. He came to Texas A&M from Blinn (Texas) Junior College where he passed for more than 4,000 yards during his freshman season but only played in six games as a sophomore. He did get a big start against Louisville in the Music City Bowl at the end of last season, finishing with 307 passing yards and two touchdowns.
3. Which Passing Defense Shows Up Big?
While Ole Miss is getting run on, the Rebels also are having issues defending the pass, giving up 220 yards per game through the air. Texas A&M’s defense has fared even worse at 243 passing yards allowed per contest. The Aggies know there will be an inexperienced quarterback under center, but they also really haven’t seen either Pellerin or Patterson play. If Texas A&M’s defense can apply pressure or confuse the young signal-callers when they drop back, it could result in errant throws or three-and-outs.
Expect both teams to keep it simple on offense but don’t be surprised if the Aggies are a little more aggressive with Hubenak at the helm compared to his inexperienced counterparts. Ole Miss will try to help out its young quarterbacks by stepping up on defense, but Hubenak has plenty of weapons at his disposal.
Neither defense is great, but Texas A&M appears to have the edge when it comes to overall talent on that side of the ball. Both offenses are capable of scoring points in bunches, the Aggies averaging 37.2 per game, Ole Miss just behind at 36.1. However, the loss of All-SEC quarterback Chad Kelly is a huge blow to the Rebels, who now need someone else to step up to take pressure of the inexperienced backups. Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze has his work cut out for him in remaking his offense this late in the season, a task that will be even more difficult considering the Rebels will be playing in one of the toughest road environments in college football.
Prediction: Texas A&M 45, Ole Miss 21
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManInLA.