OXFORD, Miss. — Chad Kelly knew he threw three interceptions. He didn’t care. All that mattered to the Mississippi quarterback was that the No. 24 Rebels were victorious.
A week after suffering a disappointing loss to Memphis, Ole Miss bounced back with a 23-3 victory over No. 15 Texas A&M in front of a season-high crowd of 60,674 on Saturday night at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
Kelly threw two touchdowns in the win to counter his turnovers. And for the first time this season, the passing game wasn’t the main focus for the Rebels, who gained 230 yards on the ground, the most against an SEC opponent on the year.
“I thought the whole offensive line did a great job. We ran the ball and they pass protected very well,” Kelly said. “Anytime you have Laremy (Tunsil) out there it’s going to help you. I thought all the guys did well on the offensive line. They did a great job.”
Tunsil, the junior All-American who missed the first seven games due to an NCAA ruling on improper benefits, gave the Rebels (6-2 overall, 3-1 in the SEC) a huge boost on offense.
Even though the Rebels settled for a few more field goals in the first half than head coach Hugh Freeze would like, the balance was evident. Ole Miss finally had the advantage in time of possession (35:48) while Tunsil’s return helped keep A&M’s Myles Garrett, and his sack-happy teammates, at a minimum from a big-play standpoint.
“I’m extremely proud of our kids and our coaches. In adversity, you find a
lot out about people and you find out who is really who,” Freeze said. “That’s what we challenged our kids with this week, that you play out of love and passion for 60 minutes and that will be good enough, at the end of the day, for us.”
The Rebels’ defense also had a big evening even without defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche in the starting lineup. Nkemdiche, who suffered a concussion in the Memphis loss, was scratched from the game Saturday morning after he woke up with a headache.
The Rebels responded, sacking Texas A&M quarterback Kyle Allen twice and holding him to his worst passing night from a yardage standpoint.
Allen, who threw three interceptions that were returned for touchdowns in the Aggies’ loss to Alabama the week prior, was 0-for-13 in the third quarter. He finished 12 of 34 for a career-low 88 yards.
“For those kids to bounce back and play like they were capable of playing, it made me feel good,” Ole Miss defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said adding he was disappointed to find out Nkemdiche couldn’t play.
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin was frustrated with the mistakes his team made. A&M had 13 penalties for 100 yards, and three turnovers.
“We couldn’t move the ball, turnovers, penalties, we couldn’t get off the field fast enough on defense in the first half,” Sumlin said. “We did get opportunities. We had the ball at midfield, or a short field, but we weren’t able to stay on the field and move the ball.”
Ole Miss never trailed as they scored on their second possession of the game.
Kelly found tight end Evan Engram for a 7-yard touchdown with 2:33 left in the first quarter to give the Rebels a 7-0 lead with a made extra point.
Ole Miss led as much as 13 points before A&M got on the board for the first time.
Gary Wunderlich had three field goals in the first half after missing his initial attempt on the Rebels’ first drive.
Kelly might not have thrown for 300 yards like he has in five of the previous seven games, but his arm strength, and touch, produced the biggest highlight of the night on offense early in the third quarter.
His 58-yard throw to wide-open Laquon Treadwell went for a touchdown, giving the Rebels a very comfortable 23-3 lead with a made extra point from Wunderlich.