An interesting contrast in styles is set to unfold on Saturday night in Oxford, as Ole Miss' high-powered offense hosts Texas A&M's standout defense in a key SEC West showdown. In addition to the intriguing strength versus strength battle, there's plenty at stake for both teams. Texas A&M (7-2, 4-2 SEC) needs another Alabama loss, but coach Jimbo Fisher's team is still alive to win the West. Ole Miss (7-2, 3-2) also has faint division title hopes, with a New Year's Six bowl still in reach.
Texas A&M is riding a four-game winning streak going into Saturday night's showdown in Oxford, and the starting point (a win over Alabama), is a big reason why this team is still in the mix to win the SEC West. After starting quarterback Haynes King was lost for the year due to injury in Week 2 against Colorado, backup Zach Calzada needed a few games to get comfortable, and the transition period cost the team two games (Arkansas and Mississippi State). But Texas A&M has found the right mix since that point, as a dominant defense and an improved Calzada to go with the usual strong rushing attack have Fisher's squad poised to push for a 10-2 regular-season record. After Saturday's trip to Oxford, the Aggies host FCS Prairie View A&M and play at Baton Rouge on Nov. 27.
Losses to Alabama and Auburn make a trip to the SEC title game a longshot for coach Lane Kiffin's team, but Ole Miss still has a chance to finish with double-digit victories for the first time since 2015. The Rebels started 3-0 before falling at Alabama (42-21), followed by another three-game winning streak and then a loss to Auburn on Oct. 30. Kiffin's team rebounded last week by defeating Liberty 27-14, and after taking on Texas A&M, this team gets a home matchup versus Vanderbilt, followed by a road trek to Mississippi State. If Ole Miss can get to 10-2, this program should be in great shape for a New Year's Six bowl — while also keeping its faint division title hopes alive.
Texas A&M holds a 9-3 series edge over Ole Miss. The Aggies have won three in a row, including the last two meetings in Oxford. These two teams did not play in 2020.
No. 11 Texas A&M at No. 15 Ole Miss
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 13 at 7 p.m. ET
Spread: Texas A&M -2.5
When Texas A&M Has the Ball
The best defense is a good offense, and that adage certainly holds true for Texas A&M on Saturday night. The Aggies rank fifth in the SEC in rushing offense, averaging 191.3 yards per game on the ground, and pace the conference (league-only matchups) by recording 5.5 yards per carry. Not only is the preferred method of attack for Fisher's offense a good matchup against a struggling Ole Miss defense, but it's also important to play ball control and keep the high-powered Rebel offense on the sideline.
Isaiah Spiller and Devon Achane are the focal point of the Texas A&M ground attack, combining for 1,579 yards and 10 touchdowns through the first nine games of the season. Spiller has eclipsed more than 100 yards in three straight games, while the team has posted at least 217 rushing yards in three straight contests. An improving Aggies' offensive line, along with the one-two punch of Spiller and Achane, is a favorable matchup against an Ole Miss defense giving up 213.2 rushing yards in SEC play. Five of the six SEC opponents the Rebels have faced have generated 200 or more yards on the ground this year. Can Kiffin's defense find a way to slow down Spiller and Achane?
Calzada isn't posting monster numbers since replacing King as the starting quarterback, but the sophomore connected on 21 of 31 throws for 285 yards in the win over Alabama and was steady (15-of-29 for 192 yards) in the victory against Auburn last Saturday. Calzada won't need to make a ton of plays on Saturday night if the ground game is going. But if the Rebels start to load the box, a secondary that ranks ninth in the SEC in pass efficiency defense should expect Calzada to take downfield shots to a talented group of options on the outside, including tight end Jalen Wydermyer and receivers Ainias Smith, Demond Demas, and Caleb Chapman.
How this game turns out is likely to hinge on just how effective Ole Miss can be against Texas A&M's ground game. The Rebels are allowing SEC opponents to hit 6.1 yards per play and 33.4 points a game, so on paper, this is a favorable matchup for the Aggies. Forcing this game away from Spiller and Achane onto Calzada's arm is the priority for the Ole Miss defensive staff.
When Ole Miss Has the Ball
Despite injuries taking a toll on quarterback Matt Corral, his supporting cast at running back and receiver, and along the offensive line, Ole Miss enters Saturday night's matchup averaging 37.8 points a game and 6.8 yards per play. The last three opponents held the Rebels under 500 total yards, but Kiffin's team still reached 27 points in two of those games.
While Ole Miss is expected to still be navigating some injury issues on Saturday, there's no doubt which player is going to start under center. Corral ranks among the nation's top quarterbacks this year, and despite suffering ailments against Tennessee and Auburn, continues to put up huge numbers. The junior enters the showdown against Texas A&M with 2,527 passing yards and 16 touchdowns to just two picks and 528 yards and 10 scores on the ground. Also, he ranks second among SEC signal-callers with 339.4 total yards a game. Corral connected on 72.4 percent of his throws for 213 yards and a score versus Alabama, but Texas A&M could arguably be the best defense he's faced this year. Corral's mobility is crucial on Saturday night, as the Aggies rank second in the SEC with 28 sacks and have the pieces up front to dominate the line of scrimmage.
A revolving door of targets has plagued the Ole Miss offense in recent weeks due to injuries, but Braylon Sanders returned last Saturday after missing two games to catch two passes for 64 yards against Liberty, with Dannis Jackson, Jahcour Pearson, and converted quarterback John Rhys Plumlee each flashing potential at various times the last few weeks. Corral's favorite target (Dontario Drummond) did not play against the Flames, and his status for the showdown versus Texas A&M is uncertain. He leads the team with 40 receptions for 658 yards and six touchdowns this fall. The Aggies rank second in the SEC in pass efficiency defense and have allowed just three passing plays of 40-plus yards. The talented running back trio of Henry Parrish Jr., Snoop Conner, and Jerrion Ealy faces a tough matchup against a Texas A&M front allowing just 103.7 rushing yards a game in league contests. However, all three will factor into the rushing attack, giving Corral a couple of extra weapons for the defense to account for.
It's a strength versus strength matchup when Ole Miss has the ball on Saturday night. Corral is among the best quarterbacks in the nation, and even with the injuries at the skill positions, the Rebels don't lack for weapons. But can the offensive line protect well enough for Corral to get on track? Texas A&M is limiting SEC opponents to just 19.2 points a game and 5.03 yards per play. This unit did not allow a touchdown in last week's win over Auburn and just one opponent (Alabama) exceeded 27 points against this defense. The Aggies are strong versus the run and pass, so this will be an interesting chess match between Kiffin and Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mike Elko.
Which style will win out on Saturday night? Can the tempo and high-scoring offense of Ole Miss get ahead early and force Texas A&M out of its comfort zone? Or will the Aggies control the game with their defense and running attack, which limits Corral's opportunities and overall possessions? The guess here is Fisher's team wins the battle up front, letting Spiller and Achane lead long drives that bleed the clock, and the Texas A&M defense gets a key stop in the fourth quarter to seal it and keep SEC West title hopes alive in College Station.
Prediction: Texas A&M 31, Ole Miss 27
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