OXFORD, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi looks to snap a three-game losing streak when it hosts winless New Mexico State.
The Rebels (3-6) return to nonconference competition Saturday after losing three consecutive games in Southeastern Conference play. Ole Miss' last two setbacks have been decided by one score — a 24-17 defeat to Texas A&M and a 20-14 road loss to No. 12 Auburn (No. 11 College Football Playoff ).
Ole Miss has kept its postseason hopes alive mainly with an improved defensive unit while the Rebels are struggling to score points primarily due to their inconsistent passing game.
"We have a lot of respect for those guys, and you have to respect every opponent," Ole Miss coach Matt Luke said. "They throw it around a lot offensively, kind of the Washington State spread, and do a really good job of that so we'll have our work cut out for us."
New Mexico State (0-8) is in the midst of a dreadful season in which six of its eight losses have been by double digits.
The Aggies average 18 points per game and surrender 42. They're coming off of a 41-7 loss to Georgia Southern.
"We are playing a tremendous football team," Aggies head coach Doug Martin said. "It will be a tremendous challenge for our football team. It is no easy task and we will have to rise up to the challenge."
Some other things to watch when Ole Miss hosts New Mexico State.
IGNITING STAGNANT PASSING GAME
Ole Miss has struggled to successfully throw the football this season.
Offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez has deployed a two-quarterback system for the last month, and the Rebels have produced marginal results through the air.
The Rebels accumulated just 99 yards passing against Auburn. John Rhys Plumlee went 11-21 for 86 yards and an interception while former starter Matt Corral was 3-6 for 13 yards.
Sophomore slot receiver Elijah Moore has been the lone bright spot with regard to the passing game. He's compiled 52 receptions for 652 yards and four touchdowns. Nobody else has more than 13 receptions.
"We just have to execute better," Moore said. "We will get better as the games go on. It is frustrating because all of us receivers are competitors. We just have to make plays."
The Aggies have stumbled through a daunting schedule this season.
"We have a great group of young men here that really care," Martin said. "They are disappointed in the season. Some things were out of their control and some are in their control. They have the right heart and the right character. We just have to play better in certain situations to get over the hump."
REJUVENATED OLE MISS DEFENSE
The Ole Miss defense has improved this season and has played its best football over the course of the last two games.
Defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre's group kept the Rebels in the game against Texas A&M and Auburn despite the offense's inability to score points. Neither Texas A&M nor Auburn surpassed 350 yards of offense against Ole Miss
A young secondary that has already recorded one more interception than it did all last season will be tested early and often by a pass-heavy New Mexico State offense.
"New Mexico State throws the ball a lot," MacIntyre said. "They can throw it 50, 60 or even 70 times this week if they want to. It will be a challenge for us."