Texas A&M and Ole Miss both enter Saturday night’s matchup in Oxford hoping to get back on track after suffering a loss last week. Memphis defeated the Rebels 37-24 in Week 7, while the Aggies gave away four turnovers in a 41-23 loss in College Station against Alabama.
Both teams are still smarting from last Saturday’s performances, but a win on Saturday night would help keep pace with Alabama and LSU in the SEC West. Ole Miss has one loss in league play (Florida) and owns a potential key conference victory over Alabama. It’s a bit early to consider West Division scenarios, but if the Rebels win out, the September win over Alabama would be huge for tiebreaker purposes. Texas A&M’s only SEC loss in 2015 came against the Crimson Tide last Saturday. If the Aggies win in Oxford, the rest of the conference slate is manageable. Coach Kevin Sumlin’s team hosts South Carolina and Auburn before stepping out of conference to play Western Carolina on Nov. 14. After the matchup with the Catamounts, the Aggies play at Vanderbilt and then LSU to close out the regular season. Texas A&M should be favored in all but one of its remaining games (at LSU) after Saturday night. If the Aggies win in Oxford, the Nov. 28 game at LSU could decide the SEC West winner.
Ole Miss and Texas A&M have met three times as SEC foes. The Aggies own a 2-1 series edge in those matchups, but the Rebels won 35-20 in College Station last season.
Texas A&M at Ole Miss
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 24 at 7 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Ole Miss -6
Three Things to Watch
1. The Rushing Attack
It seems odd to focus on this area with all of the explosive and big-play threats at receiver in this game, and two talented quarterbacks in Ole Miss junior Chad Kelly and Texas A&M sophomore Kyle Allen. Even though both teams have explosive passing attacks, establishing the run and generating production from the ground game is critical to keep the offense out of third-and-long situations or to reduce the pressure on Kelly and Allen. A consistent ground attack has been a problem for both teams in conference play this year, as Texas A&M ranks 14th in the SEC (97 yards per game) and Ole Miss at 10th. Additionally, the Rebels average just 2.9 yards per carry in SEC games. Neither team has to run for 200 yards a contest to be successful, but more balance – especially on first and second downs – would allow both offenses to stay out of third-and-long and obvious passing down situations. Which team will find the right answers on Saturday? The Rebels have an advantage here, as Texas A&M allows 228.7 rushing yards per game in league play.
Related: Predictions for Every Game in Week 8
As referenced in the opening, a significant reason for Texas A&M’s loss to Alabama has to do with turnovers. The Aggies lost four in last week’s game after giving away just three in the prior five matchups. The Rebels are in a similar predicament, as coach Hugh Freeze’s team has lost at least two turnovers in each of the last four games, including six in losses against Memphis and Florida. The outcome of this matchup is more complicated than just the turnover margin. However, whichever team can finish on the positive side of this stat is probably going to win on Saturday night.
Related: SEC Week 8 Predictions
3. The Offensive Lines and Quarterbacks
Ole Miss is getting a huge addition to its offense this Saturday. Left tackle Laremy Tunsil was suspended for the first seven games but is slated to return for Week 8. Tunsil is one of the nation’s top linemen and will help to stabilize a line that lost Robert Conyers to a torn ACL against Memphis and allowed 13 sacks in 2015. Tunsil’s return is good news for Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly against a Texas A&M defensive front that is among the nation’s most active groups at the line of scrimmage. Sophomore end Myles Garrett was arguably the No. 1 defender in college football through the first half of 2015, but if he can’t get to Kelly, the Rebels will have opportunities for big plays downfield to receivers Laquon Treadwell, Cody Core, and Quincy Adeboyejo. Ole Miss’ defensive line hasn’t been as stout as most predicted this offseason, but there was some good news for this unit announced on Thursday. Standout ackle Robert Nkemdiche will play against Texas A&M after suffering a concussion against Memphis. The Rebels rank ninth in the SEC with 11 sacks, and the secondary has allowed its share of big plays (eight plays of 30 yards or more in 2015). If Texas A&M’s line keeps the pass rush off quarterback Kyle Allen, the Aggies have plenty of options at receiver - standout true freshman Christian Kirk is the go-to target - to exploit the leaky pass defense.
College football’s weekend slate is relatively light on must-see matchups, but this meeting between the Rebels and Aggies in Oxford has to be one of the better games for Week 8. Both teams need to win this game to stay alive in the SEC West title mix and keep within striking distance of LSU and Alabama. There should be no shortage of points scored on Saturday night. Which team makes a critical stop on defense or forces a timely turnover? Considering the yards and points expected between the two high-powered offenses, one stop on defense in the second half may decide this game.