OXFORD, Mississippi (AP) — Mississippi’s defense is forcing turnovers and scoring points.
Safety Cody Prewitt says the unit is relentless and stingy and it’s hard to argue with him now that it’s helped the No. 3 Rebels improve to 6-0 for the first time since 1962.
Mississippi returned an interception and a fumble for a touchdown in its first win over Texas A&M on Saturday night. The opportunistic group has forced at least one turnover in 29 straight games — the second-best streak in the FBS.
“Our defense — I couldn’t be more proud of the staff and the kids and how they’re playing,” coach Hugh Freeze said.
The Rebels had two interceptions against the Aggies to give the team 12 this season, which is the most in the SEC and is tied for tops in the nation. They’ve returned three of those interceptions for touchdowns, also tied for first in the country.
Texas A&M entered Saturday’s game averaging the third-most points in the nation at 47.8. But the Mississippi defense held the Aggies to just 20 points, which was their lowest score since finishing with 10 in a loss to LSU last year.
The Aggies were shut out in the first half against Mississippi, marking the first time in coach Kevin Sumlin’s head coaching career that his team hadn’t scored before halftime.
Mississippi’s starting defense had allowed just one touchdown this season before Saturday night. They gave up three to the Aggies, but Freeze was quick to point out that they shouldn’t be blamed for all those scores.
“We stressed them (Saturday) in the second half because we didn’t stay on the field enough,” Freeze said. “The offense will take some blame for that.”
Quarterback Bo Wallace agreed.
“We’ve got to get better at giving our defense a rest,” Wallace said. “When they’re out there getting stops, we’ve got to do a better job of helping them out.”
Prewitt had an interception return for a touchdown against the Aggies for the 11th interception of his career and Keith Lewis scored his first career touchdown on a 21-yard fumble return. The defense also got a big game from sophomore linebacker Tony Conner, who finished with a career-high 11 tackles and leads the team with 36 tackles this season. Freshman defensive end Marquis Haynes has led the pass rush, had two sacks against the Aggies and has a team-leading four this season.
The Rebels are one of six remaining undefeated teams and they know that things are only going to get tougher the longer they remain perfect.
“The more games we win, the bigger the target gets for us and we just have to do a good job of focusing on the task and each team,” linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche said.
This week they host Tennessee before a trip to LSU. The Volunteers are winless in conference play and rank second to last in total yardage and points a game.
There was some talk on Saturday night about whether Ole Miss deserves to be ranked No. 1 after two straight wins over top-15 opponents. But they stayed ranked No. 3 while in-state rival Mississippi State, which is the only other undefeated team in the SEC, moved up to the top spot.
That doesn’t matter to Freeze and the Rebels, though.
“I’ll tell our team (Saturday), no poll, no media gets to decide for us how we define ourselves,” Freeze said. “We could lose every game left on our schedule probably with the league we play in. So we better just focus on us.”