Five things to watch as Texas A&M faces Ole Miss

By Jack Holmes
2019 Getty Images

Kellen Mond warms up ahead of their game against the Clemson Tigers at Memorial Stadium on September 07, 2019, in Clemson, South Carolina.

HOUSTON - Texas A&M (3-3) and Ole Miss (3-4) will square off at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Mississippi on Saturday night, as each team will try to get back on track.
 
Here are five things to watch in this weekend's SEC matchup:

1.   Can the Aggies capitalize on an easier part of their schedule?

Texas A&M leaves the first six games of its season with a 3-3 record after facing the likes of Auburn and top-ranked Alabama and Clemson teams. The next four games on the slate look a lot more winnable for the Aggies. They include Ole Miss, Mississippi State, University of Texas at San Antonio and South Carolina. All four teams have a combined record of 12-13.

"These are great games to come together more as a team and really put together our identity," junior safety Keldrick Carper said. "Ole Miss coming up, we have the opportunity to really go out there and solidify ourselves and get off this loss that we just had to Alabama. Just get this taste out of our mouth."

The Aggies have won the last two matchups against Ole Miss by a combined 21 points. The Rebels four losses include Memphis, Cal, Alabama and Missouri. It is imperative that Texas A&M takes care of business Saturday, as finishing the season with fewer than six wins and missing out on a bowl game is still a possibility.

2.   How much will Texas A&M lean on Kellen Mond and its passing attack?

Ole Miss is not only last in passing defense in the SEC, it is second-to-last in the entire country. The Rebels have allowed 2,103 yards in the air this season, which is good for 300 per game. 

On the other side of the ball, Texas A&M has the fourth-best passing offense in the conference. Quarterback Kellen Mond is third in the SEC in total yards (1,597) and touchdown passes (12), ranking behind only LSU's Joe Burrow and Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa.

The Aggies' rushing attack is lagging behind, ranking 13th in the SEC, and they are the only team besides Vanderbilt to not break the 800-yard mark on the season. Because of that, Mond has been forced to carry a lot of the offensive weight. The quarterback said he is not backing down from the challenge.

"At times it can be hard, but it's what I signed up for," Mond said. "I want all the pressure on me. I want to be able to lead this team to success and victory. … I definitely need to be better, and it definitely starts with me."

Expect to see an aerial attack from Texas A&M on Saturday.

3.   How will Texas A&M's defense fare against at dual quarterback attack?

The Rebels have a unique offense that features two quarterbacks. Matt Corral is more of a passing threat and has totaled 977 yards and four touchdowns this season. On the other hand, John Rhys Plumlee is more of a threat on the ground and has the second-most rushing yards on the team. The freshman signal caller has totaled 470 yards and four touchdowns rushing, as opposed to passing for 425 yards and four touchdowns.

"It doesn't make it difficult, but you have to be aware of the two quarterbacks," Carper said. "You have to be aware of who they are, what they like to do and what type of quarterbacks they are."

Carper also noted that the Aggies faced two quarterbacks against Arkansas and played well after making some adjustments. However, that was due to an in-game injury to Nick Starkel. This time, Texas A&M knows what to expect heading into the game.

Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher did note that his defense will still have to be on their toes because the Rebels will sometimes change the quarterbacks' roles.

"They rotate quarterbacks," Fisher said. "You've got to be careful because you think one runs, one throws and all of a sudden they switch it up on you."

4.   Can the Aggie defense slow down the best rushing attack in the SEC?

Ole Miss has the best running offense in the conference this season. They have totaled 1,610 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground, and their top four rushers all average between 4.3 and 7.2 yards per carry.

"You say a run team, but they still throw it," Fisher said. "They run to throw… That's just their emphasis. … Hopefully we'll match up well, but it is tough the way they do it. And to do it with so much quarterback running, that's a totally different run."

The Rebels' leading rusher is running back Scottie Phillips, who has totaled 471 yards and five touchdowns. Right behind him is Plumlee with 470 yards and four touchdowns.

The Aggies rank fifth in the SEC in rushing defense, allowing just 116 yards per game and only six total touchdowns. They held top rushers like Clemson's Travis Etienne, Auburn's JaTarvious Whitlow and Arkansas's Rakeem Boyd to under 90 yards each and one total touchdown. 

Stopping the Rebels on the ground will be key to an Aggie victory on Saturday.

5.   Will tight end Jalen Wydermyer continue to make an impact on offense for the Aggies?

The 6-foot-5, 260-pound freshman is catching the eyes of his coaches, teammates and fans alike. Wydermyer has caught a pass in each game this season, totaling 105 yards and four touchdowns. Two of those scores came against Alabama this past weekend.

"I've never seen a guy come in and adapt so quickly to the speed of the game and just being able to run routes being a big guy," junior wide receiver Jhamon Ausbon said. "He understands how to attack guys' leverages and stuff like that, (things) that you don't really pick up until later.

I would expect Wydermyer's role in this offense to continue to grow as he gains more confidence and quarterback Kellen Mond begins to trust him as a reliable target.
 

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