Running Game Powers Tigers Over Rebels

Auburn's running game is getting fired up as the Tigers hit the stretch run of the 2014 season.

Oxford, Miss.--Entering Saturday night’s showdown of top four teams inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, the Ole Miss defense had allowed just 944 total rushing yards and three touchdowns on the ground in its first eight games of the 2014 season, but that all changed after facing the Auburn Tigers.

Against a defense that had not allowed an opponent to score more than 20 points this season and was surrendering just 118 rushing yards per game, the Tigers ran over, around and through Rebels for 253 yards and matched the season total of rushing touchdowns allowed with three on the way to a 35-31 victory.

It wasn’t just on the ground that the Tigers had success, however, as Nick Marshall completed 15-22 passes for 254 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. That put Auburn’s total offense number at 507 yards against a defense that had allowed more than 400 total yards just twice this season.

While the Ole Miss defense got much of the attention coming in, it was Auburn’s offensive line that had the biggest impact in Saturday night's win for the Tigers. Controlling the line of scrimmage, Coach J.B. Grimes’ group had its second consecutive strong game and left tackle Shon Coleman said it all started with execution.

“We had a great game plan,” Coleman said. “We worked real hard this week, the whole offense, on going out there and executing the game plan. I think we did that very well and they made plays also.”

The line did its part in the strong offensive performance and so did senior running back Cameron Artis-Payne. Overshadowed in name by other backs in the Southeastern Conference, all Artis-Payne does is pile up the yardage in Gus Malzahn’s offense. Thrashing the Rebels for 143 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries, he now has 974 yards and seven touchdowns while averaging 5.5 yards per carry this season.

Much of his success can be attributed to just getting his opportunity. When Tre Mason got his hot streak in the second half of last season it kept Artis-Payne on the sidelines for much of the stretch run for the Tigers. Now in his second year in the offense the junior college transfer is finding his groove at just the right time for Auburn.

“It’s just knowing what to expect and knowing you’re going to be in the game,” Artis-Payne said. “Even though you get named the starter it’s still not as comfortable as you’re going to be six, seven, eight games into the season. I think I’m just hitting that stride, me and the offensive line.”

That’s a scary thought considering what the Tigers did to one of the top defenses in the country Saturday night. With still plenty of football ahead of them starting this week with a game against Texas A&M at home, senior center Reese Dismukes now the goal is to keep getting better. That led Auburn all the way to the national championship game a season ago and it’s the goal once again for the Tigers.

“Any time you can go on the road against a top five opponent that’s huge,” Dismukes said of the win. “It kind of reminded me of Texas A&M last year. It had that kind of feel.

"Whatever happened we were going to win it," Dismukes said. "I’m just proud of the whole team. This was a whole team effort tonight. Obviously, there will be a lot of things we’ve got to clean up. We just have to keep getting better and moving on, flip that next page.”

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