No. 10 Ole Miss, facing Texas A&M, looks to improve SEC footing

Field Level Media

November 01, 2023 at 3:52 am.

The Ole Miss Rebels are trying not to get ahead of themselves.

The Rebels (7-1, 4-1 Southeastern Conference) debuted at No. 10 in the College Football Playoff rankings Tuesday night. They are in the thick of the race for the SEC West championship and have a game at No. 2 Georgia looming next week.

Yet Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin maintains that his team’s focus is exclusively on its game against Texas A&M (5-3, 3-2) on Saturday in Oxford, Miss.

“If they were (looking ahead),” Kiffin said of his players, “they got woken up when we showed them the film.”

Ole Miss has won four straight since a 24-10 loss at Alabama. After an epic 55-49 shootout win against LSU, the Rebels’ defense has had a bigger impact, allowing 20 points (Arkansas), 21 points (Auburn) and seven points (Vanderbilt) in the past three games.

The defense allowed 637 yards to LSU, the fourth time in the first five games that it allowed at least 342 yards. But it has not allowed more than 286 yards in any of the past three games.

“I’m pleased with our defense and how we’re playing,” Kiffin said.

The coach also is happy about the Rebels’ improved balance of the offense. Ole Miss’ running game rushed for fewer than 150 yards in three of the first four games but has surpassed that threshold in each of the past four while averaging 228 rushing yards.

The Rebels rank third in the SEC in total offense, averaging 474 yards per game.

“We’re playing a team that can run the ball with the backs, run with the quarterback and throw the ball down the field with very dynamic playmakers,” Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher said.

Kiffin said Texas A&M has “an NFL roster,” adding, “This is a very, very, very elite talented team that very easily could be a top-five team in the country.”

The Aggies have been especially effective on defense, leading the SEC in total defense (269.3 yards per game) and ranking third in scoring defense (19.5 points per game).

“Their defense is playing as well as anyone in the country,” Kiffin said.

The biggest difference between this Texas A&M team and the one last season that finished 5-7 is the defense. Former Louisville and Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino is in his first season as offensive coordinator.

The Aggies are averaging 32.0 points per game, 9.2 more than they averaged as the second-lowest-scoring team in the SEC a year ago.

“Bobby does a great job, always has wherever he’s been,” Kiffin said.

Texas A&M ended a two-game losing streak with a 30-17 home victory against South Carolina last week, but it has lost both games that it has played in opponents’ home stadiums this season. The Rebels are 5-0 at home.

“You’ve got to silence the crowd and (handle) the momentum swings,” Fisher said. “You’ve got to be sound in what you do and you’ve got to understand the mentality that you’ve got to take on the road.

“You’ve got to block out the noise, block out the clutter and go play. You’ve got to execute in critical moments.”

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