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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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Rigid A&M defense meets Lane Kiffin, high-scoring No. 10 Ole Miss

Photo by Jaime Rowe

Junior DL Shemar Turner (5) attempts to block a pass during Texas A&M’s game vs. South Carolina at Kyle Field on Satuday, Oct. 28, 2023.

Texas A&M football needs to break a bad habit.

It’s pretty simple, actually: The Aggies haven’t been able to win on the road.

They haven’t done so since 2021, when they took down a Missouri team that finished 6-7. A&M is 7-15 in away games since coach Jimbo Fisher took over the program in 2018 and has now lost eight consecutive road games. This season, it’s already dropped matchups with Miami and Tennessee away from Kyle Field.

That trend doesn’t bode well for the Aggies’ matchup versus No. 10 Ole Miss on Saturday, Nov. 4, at 11 a.m. in Oxford, Mississippi. The Rebels are 17-2 at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium over the past three years, including a perfect 5-0 this season with a win over No. 14 LSU.

“When you go on the road, you’ve got to silence the crowd,” Fisher said. “You’ve got to be sound in what you do and everything that goes on … You’ve got to block out the noise, block out the clutter and go play. You’ve got to execute in critical moments, and that’s what it gets down to.”

The Aggies’ itinerary sees them depart College Station two days before the game on Thursday, giving them one full day of preparation leading up to the main event.

“That’s the best thing we do, and the reason we do it is because of academics,” Fisher said. “It’s not just about the travel, it’s about getting them off the streets on Thursday night, get extra rest and then you get academics on Friday … We have a better academic day on Friday because you’d have to miss class to have your meetings and then leave early.”

Snapping its road skid will be critical for A&M as it enters the final third of its season at 5-3. The Aggies’ remaining home schedule is manageable against Mississippi State and Abilene Christian, but away contests with Ole Miss and LSU will determine how far this team has come.

Three of the Aggies’ four road losses last season came by single digits, as the Maroon and White were unable to find the extra bit of juice to come out on top. A win in a hostile environment like that of the Rebels and the Tigers would serve as evidence that A&M is on the right track to rebounding from last season’s 5-7 debacle.

Heck, a road win could be the difference between Fisher returning to College Station next year. He was hired to help the Aggies celebrate conference and national titles, not the Texas Bowl.

It’s a different story on the other sideline. Now in his fourth year leading Ole Miss, coach Lane Kiffin has brought the same level of offensive firepower to the Magnolia State that made him one of the nation’s top offensive coordinators while at Alabama from 2014 to 2016.

The Rebels average 38.9 points per game for third in the SEC, while A&M is close behind with 32 points. Ole Miss has achieved that statistic with a balanced attack that leans on both the run and passing game, led by junior Jaxson Dart, one of the nation’s most talented dual-threat quarterbacks.

Dart has passed for 14 touchdowns this season while rushing for seven more with a scramble ability that leaves opposing defenses pulling their hair out. The USC transfer did just that when the Rebels left Kyle Field with a 31-28 victory last year. Dart passed for three touchdowns while rushing for 95 yards, most of which came on improvised plays.

“‘Playmaker’ is the first thing I think of,” Fisher said of Dart. “He can run between the tackles or outside, so he’s a very gifted guy with a lot of ability and they rely on him a lot, on his legs and his arm.”

The Aggies allowed 530 yards to Ole Miss last season, but don’t count on that being the case this time around. Defensive coordinator DJ Durkin, formerly of Ole Miss, has transformed A&M into one of the SEC’s top units, allowing just 19.5 points per game. Its 269.2 yards per game rank seventh in the nation.

The defense aims to continue its strong start out of the week following a win over South Carolina in which it allowed just 209 yards, including 33 on the ground. The Rebels, though, are a far more efficient team than the Gamecocks and will act as a measuring stick for both the Aggies’ pass rush and secondary.

Ole Miss’ 474 yards per game is good for 12th in college football behind Dart, sophomore running back Quinshon Judkins and a trio of receivers with 25 catches or more.

“It will be a difficult task, but I feel like there’s no offense that we can’t handle,” junior defensive lineman Shemar Turner said. “I feel like just getting behind the chains early and slowing down their tempo is going to be a key factor to stopping that offense.”

There’s no denying that Saturday could pose arguably the greatest challenge of the season to the A&M defense. With that being said, it is also the biggest opportunity for the unit to display its ability to hang with the nation’s best. A win for the Aggies could change the narrative of where the program is headed, or it could gravitate it further to the middle of the pack.

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About the Contributor
Luke White
Luke White, Sports Editor
Luke White is a junior telecommunication media studies major and sport management minor from Round Rock, Texas. He has served as head sports editor since May 2023.
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