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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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A&M hosts Ole Miss amid mid-season slide

Photo by Photo by Robert O’Brien

The Aggies walk out onto Kyle Field before A&M’s game against Sam Houston State at Kyle Field on Sept. 3, 2022.

Forty-two days will have passed between Texas A&M’s last football game in Kyle Field against the Miami Hurricanes and the Aggies’ next home game against the No. 15 Ole Miss Rebels. A month and a half is a long span to go without playing on your home field, and yet the rollercoaster ride A&M football has experienced over that span has felt like even longer.

“Playing on the road is hard, you know, especially when you do it continuous weeks in a row,” senior tight end Max Wright said. “It definitely takes a toll. That feeling of being able to just prep for playing in Kyle Field all week and then just getting to be at home and playing in front of the fans is huge. Six weeks without being able to do that? That’s the longest I’ve ever gone without playing in Kyle Field.”

The Aggies have dropped three consecutive contests against SEC competition during this span that includes a bye week, losing in Starkville, Miss., Tuscaloosa, Ala. and Columbia, S.C.; furthermore, the consecutive top-15 wins the Aggies earned against Miami and Arkansas have looked less convincing as time passes. The two programs have combined for a record of 2-5 since playing A&M. Even in this situation, though, coach Jimbo Fisher believes the Aggies are right on the cusp of being able to put it together if they can put the mental mistakes behind them.

“Look at what we’re doing and the guys that we have,” Fisher said. “Look at the young players on this team, look at the young talent we have, look at the guys making a lot of the plays … We’ve got a good nucleus of what we’re doing, [and] we’re only a play off in all those games.”

Currently sporting a record of 3-4, the Aggies sit in fifth place in the SEC West, tied alongside Arkansas and Auburn with a 1-3 record in conference play. As a result, A&M approaches a reality that it hasn’t faced since 2008: the risk of not making a bowl game.

While there are plenty of reasons for optimism and pessimism toward A&M football, there’s no denying that the team is headed in the wrong direction as the unit takes a mid-season slide that could cost the Aggies their postseason. With five games to go in the 2022 season, A&M is in a sudden race to earn three more wins for postseason eligibility, starting back home against Ole Miss on Saturday, Oct. 29.

The history between these two programs has been unpredictable and surprisingly even. Since joining the SEC, the Aggies lead the series by a margin of 5-4. The home team has only ever won in three of the nine games, and the Rebels have narrowly outscored the Aggies 246-234.

This season may be less even, though, as the Aggies enter with a sub-.500 record and the Rebels with a 7-1 record, dropping their first game of the season last week to the LSU Tigers in Baton Rouge, La. Despite this, as evidenced by the teams’ past contests, this game will not be an easy win for either side.

“We’re getting ready to go play probably one of the top-five rosters in America,” Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin said. “[A&M’s] guys are ultra-talented, and we’re going to play in one of the top-five hardest places to play. That’s a combination, obviously, that makes you have to do a lot of things right in order to have a chance to win.”

Regardless of the obvious amount of talent the Aggies have, they are now in a position where they must be preoccupied with the prospect of reaching the postseason. The Rebels’ postseason sights are set higher, as they are tied with the Alabama Crimson Tide for the best overall record in the conference.

Ole Miss didn’t start the season with seven straight wins off the back of one side of the football; rather, the team is well-balanced on offense and defense. The Rebels’ offense averages 38 points per game, a mark that has yet to be eclipsed by A&M in a single game this season. Ole Miss’ offense will test the Aggies’ rushing defense as the Rebels aim to attack their opponents on the ground. Averaging 252.1 rushing yards per game, the Rebels have the best rushing offense in the SEC and the third-best rushing offense in the nation.

Freshman running back Quinshon Judkins has emerged as one of the nation’s best young running backs, impressing to the extent that he is outperforming teammate junior running back Zach Evans, a former A&M recruiting target and the No. 2 running back prospect in the Class of 2020. Evans was limited in the team’s loss to LSU with an injury, but he may be healthy for the game in Kyle Field.

Ole Miss has also been a stout team defensively, allowing only 20.8 points per game. The strength of the team is the pass rush, earning 23 sacks in eight games, the best in the SEC and 14th best in the nation. Ten different Rebels have a sack, none more than junior defensive lineman Jared Ivey with 4.5.

As well, the Rebels play an aggressive style of defense that aims to create turnovers. This has resulted in Ole Miss forcing and recovering seven fumbles and intercepting six passes. Their combined 13 turnovers forced are tied for second in the SEC. On the other end, the Aggies have been prone to turnovers offensively, losing five fumbles and throwing six interceptions.

A&M’s defense has continued to be its strongest side. The offense has not yet found its footing this season. Junior running back Devon Achane is the focal point of the offense and has 781 total yards and five total touchdowns on the season.

The passing attack has been inconsistent and unpredictable as the Aggies have played three quarterbacks this year. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Haynes King seemed to suffer an injury late against South Carolina that put freshman and former five-star quarterback Conner Weigman in the game. Weigman almost led an A&M comeback but fell short, but not before adding further fuel into the ever-burning furnace that is A&M’s 2022 quarterback battle. Another struggle has been the injuries that have plagued A&M’s offense this season, losing senior wide receiver Ainias Smith for the season as well as a trio of offensive linemen.

“I’m very confident that this team hasn’t checked out,” Wright said. “I think that as frustrating as the start of the season has been, there’s still a lot of ball left to play. There’s still a lot of great things that can happen in the rest of the season that can still help us finish out this year really strong.”

A&M has its back against the wall, and the season is rapidly winding down. Distractions like suspended freshmen don’t help A&M’s prospects moving forward as the team continues to feel like it takes two steps backward for each step forward, but a win over Ole Miss would be a huge step forward for a program looking to make a statement.

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