Published October 11, 2013
OXFORD, Miss. – Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze is trying to think of some creative ways to stop Texas A&M's prolific duo of Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans.
He admits it's not easy. Nobody's been able to do it so far.
Manziel is having a stellar encore season after winning the Heisman Trophy, completing 71.4 percent of his passes for 1,489 yards, 14 touchdowns and four interceptions through five games.
Freeze said Manziel is more apt to stay in the pocket this season and deliver quality throws — especially to the 6-foot-5 Evans, who towers over most defenders and is averaging nearly 25 yards per catch.
The Rebels (3-2, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) host No. 9 Texas A&M (4-1, 1-1) on Saturday. It's the first of six straight home games for Ole Miss.
Freeze said slowing the Manziel-Evans connection may mean being a little unorthodox.
"We've thought about a lot of crazy things," Freeze said. "We're trying to think out of the box a little bit on who we might put on him in some situations that could compete for a jump ball with him."
But Freeze said the Rebels also had to be careful about paying too much attention to Evans because Manziel has plenty of options around him and can also run the ball himself if needed.
Sumlin said Manziel continues to improve.
"Everybody sees that he's improved as a quarterback," Sumlin said. "What one person sees as an improvement is different than someone else. It all gets back to what is the best thing for us to be successful on that play. It's about not giving the other team the ball and not giving up negative plays. We're not telling him every play 'you need to do this and this and this.' That limits his game."
Texas A&M has been great on the road during Sumlin's two-year tenure, winning all nine games away from Kyle Field. Sumlin has a personal 14-game road winning streak dating back to his tenure at Houston.
Five things to watch as No. 9 Texas A&M visits Ole Miss on Saturday:
MANZIEL-EVANS DUO: Ole Miss is trying to figure out a way to slow down Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. The Heisman Trophy winner is having another spectacular season, and might be even more efficient at delivering good passes this season — especially when the 6-foot-5 Mike Evans is his target. Evans is averaging nearly 25 yards per catch and is virtually unstoppable on jump balls because of his height and athletic ability.
THE TURNOVERS: Texas A&M needed a fourth-quarter rally last season to beat Ole Miss 30-27. The Aggies should have won the game by much more, but six turnovers hurt the offense and allowed the Rebels to hang around the entire night. Texas A&M can't afford to be that generous again.
HOMEFIELD: It's been a brutal stretch of games for Ole Miss, which has played four out of five on the road. Now the Rebels get to hang around the Magnolia State for the rest of the season. They have six straight home games and then the regular-season finale is just a short jog down to rival Mississippi State for the Egg Bowl.
OLE MISS OFFENSE: The normally efficient Ole Miss offense has been inconsistent the past few weeks. The Rebels were shut out in a 25-0 loss to Alabama and then sputtered early before a late rally fell short in a 30-22 loss to Auburn. During those two losses, the Rebels had a six-quarter streak without a touchdown. Texas A&M is almost certain to put up points on Saturday so the Rebels must keep pace.
ROAD WARRIORS: Texas A&M is a good team anywhere, but they've been particularly impressive on the road. The Aggies have won nine straight away from Kyle Field, which is the longest road winning streak for the program since a 10-game stretch in 1939 and 1940. Coach Kevin Sumlin personally has a 14-game road winning streak dating back to his time as the coach at Houston.
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