Auburn Defense Faces Tough Task In Rebs

Auburn's defense will have a big challenge this Saturday against an improving Ole Miss offense.

Auburn, Ala.—After facing a different type of offense each of the first five weeks of the season, the Auburn defense will finally see a familiar foe on Saturday when the Tigers take on the Ole Miss Rebels in Oxford. Using a style of play similar to that of Gus Malzahn and Chad Morris at Clemson, coach Hugh Freeze has the Rebels playing at a high level through six games this season.

One of the most balanced teams in the country, averaging 213 yards rushing and 226 yards passing per game, Ole Miss is scoring 31.3 points and is averaging 23.3 first downs per contest. With quarterback Bo Wallace capable of running and passing, speedy running back Jeff Scott a threat to take it the distance every time he touches the ball, and big Donte Moncrief a load at wide receiver, Auburn linebacker coach Tommy Thigpen said Auburn must play well on defense this Saturday to get a win.

"Their kids are playing with a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of confidence, and a lot of passion," Thigpen said. "They are totally different from the teams we've seen in the past. It looks like a brand new team. They have some experienced running backs. We think the kid Moncrief, number 12, he's as good as any wide receiver in the conference. We've got our hands full with the two little running backs. They are shifty, they can play in space, they can make you miss, they are great in route running. And, the quarterback seems like he's getting more and more confident every week."

A junior college transfer, Wallace has been the key to success for the Ole Miss offense this season. Completing 61.6 percent of his passes for 1,145 yards and eight touchdowns with eight interceptions, Wallace has done a good job of throwing the ball down the field this season. Also a capable runner out of the zone-read, he has 186 rushing yards and three touchdowns as well in 2012. Thigpen said that makes Ole Miss tougher to defend because it adds another dimension to their offense.

"He's a running threat," Thigpen said. "It's a great compliment to the running game because the quarterback is a huge factor. He keeps you honest in a lot of ways. They run a lot of option and zone reads. They do a lot of things on offense that keep you very limited in the number of calls you can make. You watch people and try to get lined up with all the misdirection things they have going. What they are doing, they are doing a good job. Their kids are playing with a bunch of confidence."

Averaging just over 72 offensive plays per game this season compared to just 61 for the Auburn Tigers, Ole Miss has done a good job of sustaining drives this season. With the Auburn defense having to play an average of 74 snaps per game, there is a good chance that the Tigers will need help from some of the reserves on that side of the ball Saturday to keep players fresh for the fourth quarter.

That has been a brutal 15 minutes for the Auburn team this season as the Tigers have been outscored 45-3 in the fourth quarter alone. Defensively, Thigpen said they'll try to get as much help from the backups as possible this week to keep that from happening again.

"You are making sure people don't get gassed out because they are playing a lot of 10 (one back and four receivers) and 11 (one back, one tight end, three receivers) personnel," Thigpen said. "It seems like every week they have some kind of theme of the week. It's no-huddle like Gus used to have and very similar in the offense they used to do. They try to get the defensive line as tired as they can so they can make it a real even game for those guys. We'll try to keep a fresh rotation of linebackers in.

"The young guys are really growing up," he added. "I'm watching guys like Cassanova (McKinzy) and Kris Frost in the film room nonstop. What at first seemed like a blur for those guys, now the light is starting to come on. I'm proud of the effort they are giving each week. We just have to make the plays we're in position to make. That's the number one thing we're seeing. We're putting you in position to make plays, you just have to execute when you get there. The scheme is really good for our guys and the kids are really starting to believe in it."

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