5 takeaways from Texas A&M's win over Ole Miss: Aggies escape with ugly 24-17 win over Rebels
OXFORD, Miss. -- It wasn't pretty, but Texas A&M came away with a 24-17 road win over Ole Miss Saturday night at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
Here are five takeaways from the Aggies' 7-point victory over the Rebels:
The sweet escape
A&M avoided disaster Saturday night, escaping with an ugly win over Ole Miss. It wasn't over until a Rebel onside kick went out of bounds with 22 seconds left.
It seemed the Aggies would never put it away against the now 3-5 Rebels, but A&M calmed all chances of being upset on the road by a desperate Ole Miss squad. The victory marked Jimbo Fisher's first SEC West road win at A&M, too.
With a win, A&M moves back over .500 overall and back to .500 in conference play, inching closer to bowl eligibility. A victory also lifts some pressure off the Aggies from facing must-win situations the next three games.
Nonetheless, there is a sense of relief for A&M going back home on a high note with a three-game homestand on tap, but the Aggies are in need of fine-tuning fast.
Aggies stand tall in third quarter
It seemed as if A&M was going to break, until Ole Miss did itself.
The Rebels came out red-hot to start the second half, going 65 yards in five plays with ease to take a 14-10 lead with 13:30 to go in the third quarter.
From there, however, the Aggies stood tall in the third frame.
Ole Miss continued to drive the field on offense, but A&M's defense made pivotal stops. Cornerback Elijah Blades forced a fumble on Rebel quarterback John Rhys Plumlee, which was taken back 61 yards by linebacker Buddy Johnson for a touchdown, giving A&M the lead. It seemed as if the Rebels would tie it at 17 on the ensuing drive, but defensive tackle Justin Madubuike blocked a 35-yard field goal attempt. Then, nickel Clifford Chattman intercepted Ole Miss' Matt Corral with 24 seconds in the frame.
Things almost went south several times for A&M in the third quarter, but the Aggies stayed afloat when it seemed bleak.
Defense steps up big
A&M didn't dominate on defense, but Mike Elko's unit made the plays needed to win.
There were plenty of chances from the Rebels to break things open in the second half, but they never did after suffering from miscues. Two A&M takeaways in the second half stumped Rebel drives in plus territory.
After Ole Miss took the lead on its first drive of the third quarter, the Rebels never scored again.
In the first half, the Aggies lucked out from a few missed passes by the Rebels that would've been big plays, and potentially touchdowns, by the Rebels. At the end of the first half, defensive back Travon Fuller knocked down a Hail Mary attempt in the end zone.
Despite allowing a season-high 250 rushing yards against Ole Miss' two-quarterback system, the Aggies fended the storm and came away with the stops needed to pick up a victory.
Offense never finds rhythm
There was no momentum maintained by the Aggies on offense all night.
The Aggies were out-gained by the Rebels 405-337.
A&M wasn't able to take advantage of Ole Miss' putrid pass defense, which came in ranked 121st in pass defense allowing 300.4 yards per game. A&M QB Kellen Mond was 16 of 28 passing for only 172 yards.
Twice Mond threw interceptions in Rebel territory in the first half, hindering the Aggies when they had good field position. Both were passes intended for freshman tight end Jalen Wydermyer. Mond didn't have much help from his offensive line, either, being sacked four times on the night.
Twice more the Aggies settled for field goals, but Seth Small missed attempts from 28 and 50 yards to leave six points on the board.
The Aggies were able to put things away with a touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, but Saturday was one of A&M's worst offensive outings on the year.
RB Isaiah Spiller has best game yet
Freshman tailback Isaiah Spiller has had tough sledding so far this year after being thrust into the starting role, but the first-year player stepped up big Saturday night.
Spiller finished with a team-high 78 yards on 16 carries. His 22-yard touchdown with 2:34 to play gave A&M a decisive 24-14 advantage. None of his 16 carries were for negative yardage.
Saturday was Spiller's best performance of the year against a Power 5 opponent. He ran for a combined 62 yards on 30 carries in four games against Clemson, Auburn, Arkansas and Alabama.
It might not have been a highlight night for Spiller, but his ability to find success running the ball was a success for the Aggies, who have had issues doing well on the ground this season.
The Aggies will continue league action next weekend at home against Mississippi State. The Aggies and Bulldogs are set for an 11 a.m. kickoff on SEC Network.
For the season, Mississippi State is 3-4 overall and 1-3 in SEC action. The Bulldogs lost to LSU at home Saturday, 36-13.
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