Auburn's Balanced Offense Buries Rebels

Auburn improved to 9-0 with a dominating offensive performance vs. Ole Miss to stay on top in the SEC West.

Oxford, Miss.--Auburn came into Saturday evening's test as the best offensive football team in the SEC and left as a better one after racking up 578 yards on the way to a 51-31 victory over Ole Miss.

For the Tigers it was a total team effort--offense, defense and special teams as the SEC's only unbeaten team made the BCS computers who ranked then No. 1 in the country look good.

With the big boys up front leading the way, the Tigers continued their domination at the line of scrimmage when they have the football. The result was a career-high 180 yards rushing for freshman tailback Michael Dyer on 21 carries plus 99 rushing yards for sophomore Onterio McCalebb on nine runs.

Cameron Newton, who had plenty of time to pass the ball, hit 18-24 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught a 20-yard TD pass from Kodi Burns and rushed for 45 yards on just 11 carries as he did his damage passing and getting the ball to the right place at the right time.

Veteran receivers Darvin Adams each caught touchdown passes and continued their strong blocking for an offense that scored 14 points in the first quarter, 20 in the second, 10 in the third and seven more in the fourth when the Tigers were playing the subs and trying to run out the clock.

"There is no doubt in my mind we are getting better offensively," McCalebb said. "I can't say enough good things about the job the offensive line is doing. Like last week, on my touchdown run the blocking was great."

Head coach Gene Chizik left the field pumping his fist to the cheers of a large crowd of Auburn partisans who stayed to the final whistle to enjoy the victory at soldout Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Ole Miss fans began leaving at halftime with the Rebels down 34-17 and Auburn looking unstoppable on offense.

Auburn came out in the third quarter and outscored the home team 10-0 to take total command of the game. Chizik credits a fourth down stop by his defense late in the second quarter that set up a field goal with building the momentum that carried over into the third quarter when Ole Miss managed just a single first down after having nine at halftime.

The special teams play was solid and in the case of a kickoff return touchdown by Demond Washington it was spectacular. "It was a great win for us," said the senior cornerback, who chipped in with an interception.

Demond Washington races 95 yards for a touchdown on a play said was perfectly blocked.

Washington said the Tigers didn't worry about their No. 1 ranking or looking ahead to the possibility of playing in the SEC Championship Game. "We are focused on the game coming up each week, " he said. "That has worked for us and we are getting better each week."

The win featured 343 rushing yards for the Tigers, their fifth straight SEC game in which they topped the 300 mark as they improved to 6-0 in the league and 9-0 overall.

"I couldn't be more proud of our coaches and the plans that they are putting together for our team every week," Chizik said after his team played for the first time as the BCS top-ranked team.

"The players are playing hard and doing everything they can to execute to the best of their ability," Chizik added. "We don't play perfect all of the time. It isn't always as pretty as we would like it to be, but the results are the same this week as have happened in the last eight weeks."

The excitement started early--very, very early.

On the first play of the game, the Tigers nearly sacked Masoli, but on the second play the Ole Miss offense sacked the Tigers' defense as Jeff Scott raced 83 yards for a touchdown on a sweep around right end zipping past linebacker Jonathan Evans and safety Zac Etheridge. Evans was filling in for injured starter Daren Bates, who did not play.

It didn't take the Tigers long to even the game at 7-7. Newton lined up at wide receiver with Kodi Burns at quarterback, and Burns hit the big quarterback on perfectly executed pass in the back corner of the end zone. The 20-yard pass play capped a drive that covered 71 yards in six plays.

After forcing an Ole Miss punt on the second possession for the Rebels, it took the Tigers just three plays to score. Taking a pitch at left end, McCalebb used blocks from Adams and Zachery to race 68 yards untouched on the way to the end zone.

The Rebels tied the game on their next possession thanks to a spectacular catch by Markeith Summers as he made a diving, over-the-head grab despite tight coverage from Washington. That 29-yard play capped a drive that went 80 yards on eight plays.

Auburn responded with an 80-yard drive of its own, but had to settle for a short field goal by Wes Byrum to put the Tigers up 17-14 with 14:07 left in the second quarter.

After an exchange of turnovers, the Tigers drove 98 yards on 12 plays to stretch the lead to 24-14. Ole Miss got the football in great field position at the Auburn 18 after a handoff exchange between Newton and McCalebb resulted in a fumble picked up by defensive end Jason Jones. He was headed toward the end zone, but Newton was there to make the tackle.

However, two plays later Auburn's Washington had perfect coverage on a pass to the goal line and the Tigers took over at their own two-yard line as the receiver made a tackle that prevented Washington from returning the ball all the way for a touchdown.

Auburn rode the passing of Newton to set up its third touchdown as the quarterback threw a perfect pass to Adams, who beat man coverage for a 24-yard TD pass play with 6:51 left in the second quarter.

Ole Miss moved deep into Auburn territory on its next possession before settling for a 32-yard field goal by Bryson Rose with 2:41 left.

The rest of the half belonged to the Tigers starting with the kickoff that Washington fielded at the five-yard line. He found a seam in the middle of the Ole Miss coverage and raced 95 yards for a touchdown to put the Tigers up 31-17.

Nick Fairley (90) and Mike Goggans tackle Masoli.

Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt compounded his team's problems by going for a fourth and one at his team's 41-yard line. Masoli was stuffed for no gain giving the Tigers great field position with 1:17 left in the half and two timeouts.

Newton almost burned the Rebels on passes to Adams and Blake for potential touchdowns, but was off target both times. The Tigers ended up settling for a 35-yard Byrum field goal that stretched their lead to 34-17 with 6.5 seconds left in the half.

At intermission the Tigers had 348 yards with 208 through the air. The Rebels had 273 with 155 of its yards on the ground.

The Tigers got the ball back to start the second half and cashed in with another field goal, this one a 48-yarder with 11:29 left to put Auburn up 37-17.

After a three-and-out effort by the Auburn defense for the first Ole Miss offensive position, the offense put the hammer down on the Rebels.

Starting with a 17-yard run by Newton, the Tigers moved 67 yards on four running plays. Michael Dyer was untouched on a 30-yard TD run at right tackle following a block from Mike Berry.

Ole Miss needed a generous pass interference call on third down and long that went against Neiko Thorpe to get its next score with 12:28 left in the fourth quarter.

Brandon Bolden, who had been contained most of the night, found a big gap in the middle of the Auburn defense and scored untouched on a 20-yard gainer to cut Auburn's lead to 44-24.

Auburn's final score came with 4:36 left as Newton hit Zachery on a swing pass that covered 10 yards to cap a drive that covered 81 yards.

Ole Miss scored against the Auburn reserves with 1:53 to make the final score 51-31.

"You have to give Auburn credit," Ole Miss coach Nutt said. "They have a great football team. We came out tonight wanting to stop number two from running the ball and we did that, but he has many other weapons.

"I think Auburn's offensive line does not get enough credit," Nutt added. "They have a very experienced offensive line, and they are very fast at the skill positions. You want to go out and stop certain players, but you gang up on one you leave other bases uncovered."

Auburn converted 9-13 third downs and held Ole Miss to 6-14 third downs in the game in which Auburn only punted one time. The Tigers also enjoyed a 33:14 to 26:46 time of possession advantage as they averaged 7.5 yards per rushing play and 8.1 yards per offensive play.

Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn liked the running performance and said he was proud of how the Tigers executed the passing game. "Last week when I was asked about balance I said there would be a time when we needed to throw the ball and tonight and I really think our guys executed pretty good," he said.

Malzahn noted that he was impressed but not surprised how well Newton stayed in the pocket and passed the ball. "We have known all along he can throw the ball pretty good and he showed that tonight and our offensive line gave him a lot of time," said Malzahn, who said the wide receivers came through with a strong performance, too.

Next up for the Tigers is a noon Homecoming game next Saturday vs. Chattanooga.

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