OXFORD • Ghosts from Ole Miss defenses past floated to the surface last week, and the Rebels hope to put them back in the box tonight.
Texas A&M will be the foe in a 6:30 p.m. SEC Network game.
Positioning in the run game – finding the right “fits” – was a problem the last few seasons. Ole Miss opponents, on average, put up more than 220 yards last season, more than 240 yards the two seasons before that.
Slowing the run game has been the most visible improvement this season under new Ole Miss defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre.
Then came Missouri, and the Tigers rushed for 233 yards, a season-high for a Rebels opponent. Missouri had touchdown runs of 41 and 54 yards.
“There were a few times we just didn’t fit things like we had been. We got cut out of a gap, don’t come back across the back end like we should to be fitting on a run. That was frustrating,” MacIntyre said.
Ole Miss was a top-20 run defense before the setback. Now the Rebels are giving up 118.4 rushing yards on average, seventh in the SEC and No. 34 nationally.
The Rebels will be without starting inside linebacker Jacquez Jones and end Tariqious Tisdale for the first half after their second-half targeting ejections at Missouri.
Injuries had already subtracted starters Mohamed Sanogo and Ryder Anderson from those positions.
MacIntyre said he’ll shuffle his linemen and play his starters more to make up for Tisdale’s absence. He’ll insert junior reserve Donta Evans while Jones is out.
Evans has played in every game and has 15 tackles with an interception and two quarterback hurries. He doesn’t believe run fits will become the problem they’ve been in the past.
He’s confident in being an every-down player for the first half against the Aggies.
“I am, but we have a lot of guys in the room, and also, coach takes pride in his cross-training so guys can play both inside linebacker spots. If I do need a blow we have guys that can come in and step in,” he said. “We train all year. I’m ready to take every snap.”
Evans doesn’t believe run fits will become the problem they were in the past.
“SEC on the road, hostile environment … sometimes things happen. They are small things, but, we’ve got to fix them, control what we can control and go on from there,” he said.
Texas A&M has run the ball only 42.2 percent of the time this season.
The bigger concern for Ole Miss will containing elusive quarterback Kellen Mond while covering A&M’s physical receivers downfield, most of whom are 6-foot-2.
“They have big, fast wide receivers, and a quarterback that can make all the throws,” MacIntyre said.