Senior strong safety Armani Watts and Texas A&M have some unfinished business with the Ole Miss Rebels on Saturday.
Watts tore his hamstring early in the game against the Rebels last season, then Ole Miss true freshman Shea Patterson tore apart the Aggie secondary for 338 yards and two touchdowns for a 29-28 victory. It was just one of many body blows the Aggies suffered down the stretch as they faded from a 6-0 start to a third straight 8-5 season.
Watts initially thought he wasn't hurt badly.
"I thought I'd be fine. I just couldn't open up and run," Watts said.
He wasn't fine, and neither was the Aggie defense as LSU carved up the Aggies for 622 yards in a 54-39 victory and Kansas State gained 454 yards in a 33-28 victory in the Texas Bowl.
"I was just angry at first [because of the injury,]" Watts said. "But there's nothing you can do but just rehab and get back to work."
Watts, who was headed toward earning all-conference honors last season and maybe declaring for the NFL draft before the injury, did just that, putting himself in position to finish his time at A&M strong. This season Watts has 73 tackles, 9 1/2 of them for losses, four interceptions and four pass breakups. Watts, who also has blocked two kicks, was a midseason All-American by cbssports.com. A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin believes the 5-foot-11, 205-pounder will be drafted in the early rounds this spring.
Watts' return to form has been a godsend since the Aggies lost senior free safety Donovan Wilson to a season-ending foot surgery in the opener. A&M has mostly leaned on freshmen and sophomores in the secondary except for Watts and senior cornerback Priest Willis, and even Willis has missed two games with an injury.
A&M is allowing 214.9 yards per game passing to rank 61st in the country, somewhat respectable. But the Aggies haven't faced a lot of great quarterbacks. The best were UCLA's Josh Rosen and Auburn's Jarrett Stidham, who teamed up to hand A&M half its losses. Rosen torched A&M for 491 yards and four touchdowns, and Stidham threw for 278 yards and three scores on 20-of-28 passing.
A&M will get a stiff test this week from Ole Miss junior Jordan Ta'amu, who took over when Patterson suffered a season-ending knee injury against LSU. Ta'amu has been impressive with a 179.29 efficiency rating, better than Patterson's 151.48, while completing 86 of 117 passes for 1,246 yards and seven touchdowns with two interceptions.
Ole Miss' passing game overall is in good shape with four receivers who have at least 36 catches led by 6-1, 225-pound A.J. Brown (62 receptions, 1,015 yards, 9 TDs).
"They have a lot of playmakers," Watts said. "They have big, physical receivers who high-point the ball."
Ole Miss' other receivers include 6-4, 225-pound D.K. Metcalf; 6-2, 199-pound DaMarkus Lodge; and 6-2, 195-pound Van Jefferson. Brown had four catches for 77 yards last year against A&M and Jefferson added four for 51.
A&M will need more than Watts to slow down the Rebels, who have won three straight against the Aggies. A&M, meanwhile, has played the last two games without 6-2, 193-pound sophomore Charles Oliver, the starting left cornerback.
"It would be nice to have him, so we'll see where he is" said Sumlin, who typically doesn't talk about injuries. "He's been playing hard. He gives us some flexibility. It would be nice to have him this week particularly with some of these bigger receivers."
A&M freshman quarterback Nick Starkel, who threw for 416 yards and four touchdowns in the first half of a 55-14 victory over New Mexico, earned honorable mention from the Tyler Rose Award this week.
The Tyler Rose national player of the week is Oklahoma running back Rodney Anderson, who ran for 151 yards and two touchdowns and caught five passes for 139 yards and two scores in a 38-20 victory over TCU.
Former A&M quarterback Gary Kubiak, who won a Super Bowl as the head coach of the Denver Broncos, has been elected to the Texas Sports Hall of Fame.
Kubiak is part of a nine-member class that will be inducted at 6 p.m. April 7 at the Waco Convention Center.
In his first season as head coach at Denver, Kubiak led the Broncos past the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 in 2015. Kubiak coached one more season, then retired citing health concerns. Kubiak went 82-75 as an NFL head coach, which included eight seasons with the Houston Texans.
Kubiak graduated from Houston St. Pius X High School, leading it to three state championships. The school named its football stadium after Kubiak last week. He played at A&M from 1980-82, earning All-Southwest Conference honors his senior year, then was drafted in the eighth round by Denver and played for the Broncos from 1983-1991, appearing in three Super Bowls. He coached running backs at A&M from 1992-93 then served as an NFL assistant for San Francisco (1994) and Denver (1995-2005), reaching three more Super Bowls with Denver.
The other members of Texas Sports Hall of Fame's class of 2018 include former Texas A&I and Chicago Bears running back Johnny Bailey (deceased), former Texas volleyball and basketball player Nell Fortner, Mary Hardin-Baylor national championship football coach Pete Fredenburg, Duncanville girls high school basketball coach and eight-time state champion Cathy Self-Morgan, former Texas Tech basketball player, coach and athletic director Gerald Myers, former seven time all-star Texas Ranger baseball player Michael Young, former Texas quarterback Vince Young and Olympic medalist and former Texas swimmer Jill Sterkel.