Texas A&M seeks to continue building on last year’s dramatic win at Ole Miss

Posted Friday, Oct. 11, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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The locker room celebration will live forever on YouTube, with Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin leading the cheers as the Aggies reveled in last year’s 30-27 victory over Ole Miss despite committing six turnovers in an unlikely comeback.

As the ninth-ranked Aggies (4-1, 1-1 in SEC) prepare to head back to Oxford, Miss., for Saturday’s showdown against the Rebels (3-2, 1-2), Sumlin offered some perspective about why the team’s narrow escape in 2012 meant so much to a program in transition.

The Aggies, at the time, were a 3-1 team playing their first SEC conference road game as a league member. And they trailed 27-17 with less than seven minutes remaining before a late comeback allowed them to laugh about the four lost fumbles and two interceptions that almost cost them a season- and program-turning victory.

Instead of squandering a double-digit lead in the second half, which had been a recurring problem the previous season under former coach Mike Sherman, the Aggies erased a double-digit deficit in the final 6:24. A&M scored on a 29-yard touchdown run by quarterback Johnny Manziel, followed by Manziel’s 20-yard scoring strike to Ryan Swope with 1:46 remaining.

“You can point back to that and say that was a pretty big deal based on … the year before. Everyone says we would’ve lost that game the prior year,” Sumlin said. “I think the emotion that was in the locker room came as a culmination of us being able to go on the road and win our first SEC game. That was a big deal for this program. It was a step in the right direction. There’s no doubt it helped us gain confidence as the season went along.”

Instead of dropping to 0-2 in SEC play, the Aggies recorded their first of four consecutive road victories against league opponents. Combined with other road triumphs, A&M will carry a nine-game winning streak in games played away from College Station into the Ole Miss contest. The school record is 10, set in 1939-40, and the Aggies can tie that mark against the Rebels.

Without last year’s comeback, running back Ben Malena said A&M would not be positioned to make school history in the return engagement. Nor does he believe the team would have gone on the strong closing run that led to last year’s 11-2 record and carry over good vibes for 2013.

“I’m not sure what our season record would’ve been last year if we don’t make that comeback,” Malena said. “But it wouldn’t have been 11-2. And probably not close to it. That game showed us what type of resiliency we had as a team. Championship teams handle the adversity, and that showed us we could be a championship team.”

Defensive end Julien Obioha said: “To win a game like that, when everything went against us, really meant a lot. That game is still helping us today.”

As a result, the Aggies’ road winning streak remains active. But the Ole Miss offense, which has been explosive at times this season, offers a significant test to an A&M defense that ranks last among SEC teams in rushing defense (214.8 yards per game, 6.1 per carry) and is No. 112 nationally in total defense (476.8 yards per game). Continued struggles on that side could threaten road success that dates to a loss at Kansas State on Nov. 12, 2011.

“They’re good. We’re going to have to throw different things at them,” said A&M defensive coordinator Mark Snyder, whose squad will feature its sixth different starting lineup in six games this season. “We’ve got our challenges out there on the outside against their receivers.”

If the Aggies can meet those challenges, they will tie the longest road winning streak in school history.

“That would be great,” defensive back Toney Hurd Jr. said of tying the record. “But we don’t really worry about numbers. The only thing we’re focused on is getting the ‘W.’ And the defense needs to do its part.”

Texas A&M at Ole Miss

7:30 p.m. Saturday

Records: Texas A&M, 4-1, 1-1 in SEC; Ole Miss, 3-2, 1-2

TV: ESPN Radio: KRLD/105.3 FM

Head to head

A&MOle Miss
Pts/game49.227.2
Total off.586.4427.8
Pass off.365243.8
Rush off.271.4184
3rd down 56.7%40.5%
Pts allowed30.825.2
Total def.476.8361.4
Pass def.262185.6
Rush def.214.8175.8
3rd down 38.841.3

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch

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