Up to this point in the season, Texas A&M has enjoyed their success within the confines of the Lone Star State. Each victory took place at Kyle Field and no offense to SMU but Gerald Ford Stadium doesn’t have a reputation for intimidating its visiting teams. The Aggies have built excitement around College Station, as well as the nation, but have yet to face a real road test. We’ve witness how dangerous this team can be when fueled by the 12th Man, but how will the Ags respond without a crowd behind them? The answer to that question will certainly be answers as A&M goes on the road five times in their next six games, beginning with Vaught-Hemingway Stadium at Ole Miss.
While the Rebels campus is known more for pre and post-game tailgating, A&M still will be playing in their first ever SEC road with a crowd of 60,000+ rooting against them. Ole Miss comes off a loss against #1 Alabama where they more than hold their own against the Crimson Tide. The Tide’s vaunted offense was held to only 300 yards of offense and was outscored 7-6 in the second half against the Rebels. Such a result should certainly inspire Ole Miss like the Florida game inspired the Aggies. The Rebels have a defense that can make plays and a zone-read offense that A&M has yet to defend against.
The front seven of the Aggie defense have been stellar thus far in the year and their role will be pivotal come Saturday. Perhaps the most impactful player for the defense may be freshman defensive end, Julien Obioha. The first-year starter has been a great addition to the defensive line but he may face his biggest challenge when he’s forced to read the zone-read. In the zone-read, the quarterback responds from defensive end resulting in either a keeper or handoff to the running back. If the defense does not stay disciplined during Ole Miss’ offensive series, the Rebels have the potential to put points on the board in the hurry.
On the other side of the ball, the topic all Aggies are talking about is one Johnny Football Manziel. In just a matter of three weeks, he’s changed the conversation from some arguing that Jameill Showers should be the starter to a few folks starting to write him in as a dark horse Heisman candidate. With over 1400 totals yards, 16 total touchdowns and a knack for saving black cats from certain oblivion, Manziel has sent the A&M campus into the frenzy—and we’ve only entered the month of October. Johnny Football’s biggest challenge to date may come this Saturday. Outside of the Florida Gators, Ole Miss will be the best defense the Ags have faced this year. Outside of letting the Texas Longhorns hang 66 on the scoreboard, they have more playmakers than Arkansas and showed in the Alabama game that they can hold their own. Manziel thrived on his first career road start at SMU but a road game in Dallas won’t compare to one of the most fun environment in all of college football.
What could be dangerous for the Rebels is A&M’s offensive line coming off its best performance against the Arkansas Razorbacks. Manziel could have taken naps with the amount of protection he received and the running game matched its season’s best with 6.8 yards a carry. While Manziel certainly thrives when he goes into improvisation mode, his 52-yard run against Arkansas—his longest of the game—came by design. Against the Razorbacks, the line showed that they may be starting to get a firm grasp on Kliff Kingsbury’s spread offense, and if that is the case then the SEC needs to watch out. Additionally, Head Coach Kevin Sumlin’s decision to get with a three-headed monster instead one workhorse at running back has worked in his advantage. Sharing the carries between Chrstine Michael, Ben Malena and Trey Williams has kept the three fresh throughout all sixty minutes—and it doesn’t help opposing defenses that the three all run as if they want to seriously harm every defender. The Texas Longhorns started their route of the Rebels by breaking them in the running game. Alabama could not be as successful making the game much closer. A&M’s rushing attack faces perhaps the same situation. Success in the running game results in plays like Ryan Swope’s 80-yard touchdown reception.
Overall, Vaught-Hemingway Stadium is no Swamp or Death Valley, but it will be a hostile SEC environment that the Aggies have yet to face. How will A&M respond when noise ramps up? Will they silence the crowd or allow the decibel level to increase?