OXFORD, Miss. (AP) — Texas A&M’s offense has been rejuvenated thanks to the return of freshman quarterback Nick Starkel. The defense isn’t looking too bad, either.
The result was a November win in the Southeastern Conference that’s so often eluded the Aggies during coach Kevin Sumlin’s tenure.
Starkel threw for 272 yards and the defense didn’t allow any second-half points as Texas A&M rallied for a 31-24 win over Mississippi on Saturday night.
“We weren’t perfect,” Sumlin said. “But our guys played really hard. I’m happy for them.”
Texas A&M (7-4, 4-3 SEC) trailed 24-21 at halftime, but took a 28-24 lead in the third quarter on a pick-six by Derrick Tucker, who snared a Jordan Ta’amu pass and ran it back 19 yards for the touchdown.
The Aggies never trailed again, using a stellar defense to hold the Rebels scoreless in the second half. Texas A&M’s defensive line was especially dominant after halftime, putting constant pressure on Ta’amu that resulted in busted plays and bad decisions.
“In one of the early drives in the second half we got two sacks back-to-back and after that I think (Ta’amu) was kind of flustered,” Texas A&M defensive lineman Landis Durham said.
Texas A&M’s Damion Ratley caught five passes for 111 yards and a touchdown. Starkel completed 19 of 32 passes and also ran for a 1-yard touchdown. It was another solid performance from Starkel, who returned from an ankle injury last week and threw for 416 yards against New Mexico.
He wasn’t quite as dominant in his first career start against an SEC foe, but he didn’t make many mistakes and hit some big passes when needed, including a 10-yard touchdown pass to Ratley.
Ole Miss (5-6, 2-5) couldn’t generate any offense after a promising first half. Jordan Wilkins led the Rebels with 147 yards rushing, including a 64-yard touchdown run. Ta’amu completed 19 of 34 passes for 189 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
Ole Miss managed just 66 total yards in the second half.
“The defense did a really nice job in the second half of creating more negative yardage plays,” Sumlin said. “Forced the issue a little bit with their quarterback and that translated into them not putting any points on the scoreboard in the second half.”
The two teams traded touchdowns throughout the first half until the final minute, when Gary Wunderlich kicked a 28-yard field goal to give Ole Miss a 24-21 lead going into the break. But the second half was a different story for the Rebels.
“We couldn’t get any rhythm,” Ole Miss interim coach Matt Luke said. “We struggled to protect to our passer. Too many penalties. We just didn’t get it done in the second half.”
Texas A&M: It’s a solid road win for the Aggies. The offense is much more balanced with Starkel at quarterback and the defense was terrific in the second half. Texas A&M should provide a tough test for LSU in the regular-season finale next weekend.
Ole Miss: The Rebels had a frustrating second half after scoring 24 points before halftime. Ta’amu had his worst game as a starter and was constantly bothered by Texas A&M’s defensive pressure. A.J. Brown caught seven passes for 70 yards and a touchdown, but also had three drops that hurt the Rebels.
“There’s nothing we can do about this but move on,” Ta’amu said. “We play Mississippi State in five days and that’s a challenge.”
Texas A&M travels to face LSU on Saturday.
Ole Miss travels to face rival Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl on Thanksgiving night.
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