OXFORD — The Texas A&M University and the University of Mississippi football teams have new quarterbacks, new head coaches, and run similar offenses.
The Aggies are having more success with the formula so far.
Ole Miss (3-2, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) will play host to Texas A&M (3-1, 1-1) at 6 p.m. Saturday (ESPNU) at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in what’s likely to be an entertaining, high-scoring game. Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze and Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin employ a spread offense that’s heavy on passing, speed and — if all goes well — touchdowns.
Freeze said the two coaches are friends and have a great familiarity with each other’s offense.
“He’ll want to beat us badly and we’ll want to get our win, also,” Freeze said. “We do a lot of the same stuff. We probably do a little bit more (variety) than he does because I feel like we have to. They do what they do and they do it very well.
“We’re very similar.”
The Rebels have shown ample improvement so far this season, already improving their win total after a 2-10 debacle in 2011. They fell to top-ranked Alabama 33-14 last week — which wasn’t a bad score considering the Tide has crushed everyone else in their path — but the loss still extended their SEC losing streak to 15 games.
Texas A&M is coming off an impressive 58-10 victory against the University of Arkansas and has outscored its last three opponents 176-27. Redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel continued his torrid start to the season, completing 29 of 38 passes for 453 yards and three touchdowns against the Razorbacks.
Manziel has been a perfect fit for Sumlin’s offense, and has shown a particularly good aptitude for making positive things happen after a play breaks down. He also rushed for 104 yards and a touchdown in against Arkansas.
Freeze said Manziel is a complete quarterback and makes good decisions for someone so new to the college game.
“He has a lot of things that are impressive,” Freeze said. “He has great speed and mobility. At the end of the day, the guy finds a way to extend play after play. Then it ends up being a dagger to you. He extends it and scores touchdowns. That’s the most concerning thing.”
The Ole Miss quarterback situation is much less settled. Bo Wallace has started all five games this season, throwing for 840 yards and seven touchdowns, but has struggled against good completion. Five of his six interceptions have come in losses to the University of Alabama and the University of Texas.
Freeze said Monday that backup Barry Brunetti would have a chance to win the starting job against Texas A&M. Even if he doesn’t start, it’s almost certain the Rebels will play both quarterbacks. Brunetti has been effective in limited playing time, completing 19 of 27 passes for 177 yards and a touchdown.
Sumlin said the Ole Miss offense would be difficult to handle regardless of who is under center.
“They do a great job offensively in their schemes to get you spread out and to split you,” Sumlin said. “They’ve got some weapons and they are tough to defend. We’ve got our work cut out for us. The combination of their scheme with their team’s speed is what separates them.”
The Rebels’ quick passing approach might negate one of Texas A&M’s biggest strengths: an elite pass rush. Junior defensive end Damontre Moore has been one of the SEC’s most productive defensive players this season, with 10 1/2 tackles for a loss, including six sacks.
But he said the Aggies will have to pick their spots to attack or risk giving up big plays.
“We have to be very disciplined,” Moore said. “He’s the most athletic quarterback we’ve played all year. He’s a little more agile. They run the zone read as well as anybody in the country. It puts more of an emphasis on us as a defensive line to be fundamentally sound.”
This is only the fifth meeting between the two programs and the first since 1980. The Aggies have won all four games in the series.