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Ole Miss rides defense in win over #11 Texas A&M

The Ole Miss (8-2, 4-2 SEC) offense dominated the stats sheet early, but had little to show for it on the scoreboard. However, the defense made sure the work was not in vain, coming up with two late turnovers that allowed Ole Miss to pull away with a 29-19 win over the No. 11 Texas A&M Aggies (7-3, 4-3 SEC) at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on Saturday.

The Rebels finished with 504 yards of total offense, 257 coming on the ground, the largest rushing total given up by the Aggies this season. Jerrion Ealy carried the ball 24 times for 152 yards, putting him over 2,000 rushing yards for his career and making him only the eighth Rebel to do so.

Matt Corral completed 24-of-37 passes for 247 yards and a touchdown pass to Dontario Drummond, who had 49 yards on six catches. Jahcour Pearson led the Rebels in receiving with 69 yards on five catches. Defensively, Deane Leonard led Ole Miss with nine tackles while AJ Finley, Otis Reese and Sam Williams combined for 21 tackles. After a dominant first half, the defense made the stops when it needed it most while the Aggies attempted to erase a 15-point first half deficit.

Ole Miss came out of the tunnel firing on all cylinders on both sides of the ball. The opening drive resulted in a 33-yard Caden Costa field goal, while Drummond capped off a 13-play, 84-yard drive with a 12-yard touchdown catch on 4th-and-goal. In the blink of an eye, Ole Miss had a 10-0 lead with 6:55 left in the opening quarter. Through the first 15 minutes, the Rebels outgained the Aggies 221-60 in total yards.

Texas A&M had a golden opportunity to cash in a Corral strip sack recovery on the first play of the second quarter, but the Rebels forced a punt five plays later. Ole Miss proceeded to find the Aggie red zone once again, but a 18-yard loss on 2nd-and-goal forced Costa to connect on a 33-yard field goal. His second field goal of the game gave Ole Miss a 13-0 lead with 9:34 left in the second quarter.

Ole Miss again marched down field after forcing a three-and-out, but Texas A&M held firm in the shadow of its own goal post, forcing a turnover on downs. However, the Rebels would get points a play later by means of a safety as Chance Campbell and Mark Robinson hit Isaiah Spiller in the end zone to give the ball right back to the offense. Both defenses kept the score 15-0 going into the locker room.

The Rebel defense pitched a first half shutout for the second consecutive game, their third of the season. Ole Miss held a 408-91 yards advantage while running 58 offensive plays to Texas A&M’s 27. Corral completed 17 of 25 passes for 216 yards through the air while Ealy had 122 yards on the ground with 13 touches. Defensively, Ole Miss forced the Aggies to go 1-for-6 on third down.

Coming out of halftime, Zach Calzada got the Texas A&M passing game going. A few successful out patterns and targeting penalty on Jake Springer allowed the Aggies to make their way into the Rebel red zone. Ole Miss held firm, forcing Seth Small to make a 30-yard field goal. Texas A&M earned their first points of the game, but still trailed 15-3 just under five minutes into the third quarter. Back-to-back incompletions forced an Ole Miss three-and-out and punt as a result.

Calzada continued his groove, going 4-for-4 on his next drive as the Aggies capped off a seven-play, 88-yard drive with a 24-yard touchdown run by Devon Achane. With 6:24 left in the third quarter, the Ole Miss lead was down to 15-10.

On the Aggies’ first drive of the second half, Calzada responded with two first down throws to get into Rebel territory, but a personal foul penalty and third down incompletion in the Ole Miss red zone resulted in another Seth Small field goal. The 43-yarder made it a 15-13 Ole Miss lead with 10:19 left to play. Pearson proceeded to convert a 3rd-and-11 on the ensuing Rebel drive, but all for not as the Aggies forced a punt. Texas A&M started the drive at their own 12-yard line with 7:08 left to play.

Two plays into the drive, Ashanti Cistrunk came away with Ole Miss’ first turnover of the night and set his offense up with a golden opportunity to pull away. Snoop Conner ran straight ahead for a 13-yard score and following the PAT, Ole Miss had a 22-13 lead with 6:32 left in the game.

The Rebel defense made yet another big play on Texas A&M’s ensuing drive. This one, however, iced the game for good. On 3rd-and-10 from the Aggie 35, Finley jumped a route, picked off Calzada, and took the ball 52-yards the other way for an Ole Miss touchdown, the first pix-six for Ole Miss since 2018.

With a sense of urgency, Calzada and the Aggies quickly made their way to the Ole Miss red zone with four straight completions. Achane found the end zone from nine yards out, but a failed two-point conversion made it a 10-point margin in the favor of Ole Miss. The Rebels held on the rest of the way to remain unbeaten at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in 2021.

The Rebels will host their final game of the 2021 season on Saturday, Nov. 20, when they face the Vanderbilt Commodores. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. CT and can be seen on SEC Network or listened to on the Ole Miss Radio Network.

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