UNIVERSITY, Miss. (AP) – Mississippi’s prolific passing offense hasn’t had any problems since backup quarterback Jordan Ta’amu took over for the injured Shea Patterson.
If anything, the Rebels might even be a little better.
Ta’amu will get his biggest test yet when Ole Miss (5-5, 2-4 Southeastern Conference) hosts Texas A&M (6-4, 3-3) on Saturday. The Aggies have a productive pass rush that leads the SEC with 33 sacks.
Ole Miss interim coach Matt Luke said the number one way to keep Ta’amu protected is to limit third-and-long situations. The Rebels’ offensive line has been solid in pass protection this season, but Luke said his team must be able to run some to keep the pressure off the pocket.
“You don’t want to get in a drop-back game where you’re throwing it and they know you’re throwing it,” Ole Miss coach Matt Luke said.
Ta’amu has been fantastic since Patterson injured his knee in October against LSU. The 6-foot-2, 212-pound junior has a 2-1 record as the starter and is completing more than 73 percent of his passes. He’s also had experience in pressure situations, leading the Rebels on a last-minute touchdown drive to beat Kentucky.
Now he’ll have a tougher assignment against Texas A&M, which beat New Mexico 55-14 last week to become bowl eligible.
“They’re an aggressive, attacking defense and force you to make mistakes,” Luke said. “It’s important we play really well and limit the negative plays.”
Here are some other things to watch when the Rebels host the Aggies:
OLE MISS CAN RUN: The Rebels’ offense has become considerably more balanced as the season has progressed. Ole Miss has run for at least 150 yards in four of the past five games and has a 3-2 record over the span. Senior Jordan Wilkins has run for 754 yards and six touchdowns and is averaged 6.2 yards per carry.
TERRIFIC TA’AMU: The Ole Miss quarterback has thrown for 368, 382 and 418 yards over his three games as the starter, which makes him just the second Ole Miss QB to throw for at least 350 yards in three consecutive games.
CLOSE SERIES: Ole Miss and Texas A&M have had some very close, entertaining games over the past five years, including three that have been decided by a field goal or less. Ole Miss rallied for a 29-28 victory last season in Patterson’s college debut. Texas A&M won two straight games in Oxford — 30-27 in 2012 and 41-38 in 2013 — in which Heisman Trophy QB Johnny Manziel led the Aggies to victory.
TRUST IN STARKEL: Texas A&M redshirt freshman Nick Starkel made his first start last weekend against New Mexico since injuring his ankle in the season-opener. He completed 21 of 30 passes for 416 yards and four touchdowns. He’s expected to get the start against Ole Miss this weekend.
WATCHING WATTS: Texas A&M safety Armani Watts has been one of the team’s most productive defensive players this season with 73 tackles, including 9½ for a loss. He leads the team with four interceptions and will have plenty of chances to make big plays against the Ole Miss passing attack.
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