Sean White (above) was less than full speed, but played most of the game.
Auburn, Ala.--Although it happened a long way from the finish of a tight game, a high-risk call and the lack of execution of it came back to haunt the Auburn Tigers on Halloween and sparked Ole Miss to a 27-19 SEC football victory.
Facing fourth down and between one and two yards at midfield with a 10-3 lead and the momentum on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium, Coach Gus Malzahn called a short pass play that less-than-full-speed quarterback Sean White threw too high for Marcus Davis.
After the game Malzahn said he made the call because he wanted to be aggressive. “We liked the matchup we had, but we just didn’t execute the play,” he said.
Ole Miss took over at the Auburn 49, tied the game six plays later and never trailed after that although Auburn had many opportunities to tie the game or take the lead in the second half.
As a result of dropping a second consecutive league contest the Tigers are buried in last place in SEC West with a 1-4 record and dropped to 4-4 overall. Ole Miss improved to 7-2 overall and 4-1 in league play.
Malzahn said the big factor in the loss was his offense’s lack of production on third downs. The Tigers converted just 2-15 opportunities while Ole Miss was able to convert 7-18 while racking up 558 total yards vs. the home team, including 402 in the air. Going into the contest, the Tigers led the SEC in third down conversion percentage.
Chad Kelly’s mostly short passes produced 381 yards and two scores as he hit 33-5 on a day he was intercepted twice.
Auburn’s White, who played with a brace on his swollen knee after being held out of the Wednesday and Thursday practices, hit 12-28 passes for 258 yards and one score. Jeremy Johnson, who saw spot duty at quarterback, completed 1-3 passes for 44 yards and ran the ball four times for 15 yards.
Commenting on White, Malzahn said, “He practiced just a little bit on Tuesday and his knee swelled up. He didn’t practice any of the rest of the week. We didn’t know if he was going to be good to go until pre-game, but he is a champion. He’s not 100 percent, but he stayed in there and fought.
“Our plan was to play both of the guys because we felt like some of the running type plays worked for both of those guys,” Malzahn added. “He is a tough kid. He is not 100 percent, but he fought and he battled. He’s a tough guy.”
The Tigers also used Kerryon Johnson as a wildcat QB, but he was held to seven yards on five carries.
“We just couldn’t convert on third downs,” said junior offensive tackle Shon Coleman, who noted he would have to look at game video to figure out why the Tigers had to settle for field goals on their three trips into the red zone. “That is something we need to get back to practice on and get things right.”
Bright spots for the Tigers included Daniel Carlson going 4-4 on field goals and not having any kickoffs returned.
With Peyton Barber less than full speed Jovon Robinson was called on to carry the load and responded with 91 rushing yards on 18 carries. Barber ran the ball just eight times for 17 yards.
Defensively, the highlight was the return of Carl Lawson from an injury. He was credited with just one assisted tackle, but did have three quarterback hurries vs. the Rebels.
Cassanova McKinzy (8) gets a sack with help from Carl Lawson (55).
Each team made a field goal in the opening quarter. Ole Miss scored on its first possession, moving 72 yards on 12 plays to set up a 27-yarder.
The Tigers took advantage of outstanding field position following a short Ole Miss punt to tie the game on a 52-yarder by Carlson with 3:52 left in the period.
Marcus Davis set up the score when he alertly scooped up a 37-yard line drive punt that bounced off of Auburn blocker Jeremiah Dinson and returned it 11 yards to the Rebels’ 39-yard line.
White’s first collegiate touchdown pass gave the Tigers a 10-3 lead with 14:11 left in the second quarter. He faked a handoff deep in the backfield to Marcus Davis and then threw a long post route to Ricardo Louis, who was behind the defense for a 47-yard scoring play. The drive covered 74 yards in five plays.
The game was tied 10-10 at the break after Ole Miss took advantage of an Auburn gamble. On fourth down and slightly more than a yard to go at midfield, a pass in the flat to Marcus Davis was too high. The Rebels scored six plays later on a 25-yard run by Akeem Judd with 3:59 left in the half.
The Rebels had a chance to score again late in the second quarter, but an interception by Blake Countess at the AU 17 ended the threat with 39 seconds on the clock.
Halftime Numbers: Ole Miss gained 230 yards on 47 pays with 21 runs for 91 yards and 15-16 passes for 139 yards. Auburn kept the football for 33 plays and netted 158 yards. The Tigers hit 6-13 passes for 123 yards with one interception and rushed 20 times for 35 yards.
Jovon Robinson started at running back for the Tigers and rushed for 91 yards.
The Rebels got the second half kickoff and moved into Auburn territory where they pulled ahead 13-10 on a 37-yard field goal by Wunderlich with 12:20 on the clock.
After a three-and-out for the Tigers, the Rebels drove deep into territory where they faced a fourth and one, but the Auburn defense stopped a QB keeper for no gain at the five-yard line.
From there the Tigers quickly moved into Ole Miss territory on the running of Robinson and a 44-yard pass from White to Melvin Ray to the 37-yard line.
Auburn moved to first and goal at the four-yard, but stalled there. On first down Robinson was stuffed for a loss of two yards, Jeremy Johnson gained two on a QB draw and on third down White rolled out at right end, but couldn’t find a receiver and lost three yards. Carlson tied the game at 13-13.
Ole Miss, sparked by its goal line stand, moved 75 yards on five plays to take the lead for good on a 45-yard pass to Derrick Jones, who beat Jonathan Jones on a deep sideline pattern.
Auburn had two great opportunities to score touchdowns in the fourth quarter and did not get the job done. After moving to a first down at the Ole Miss 12-yard line, the Tigers stalled there and kicked a field goal to cut the margin to 20-16.
After an interception by Kris Frost gave the Tigers possession at the Ole Miss 47, Auburn moved to first and goal at the three-yard line and went backwards from there before kicking a field goal on fourth and goal at the nine with 12 minutes to play.
Needing a stop from the defense, the opposite happened as Ole Miss drove 75 yards on six plays with a 33-yard pass to Laquon Treadwell and a 21-yard touchdown pass to the same player the big plays. That put Ole Miss up 27-19 with 10:13 to play.
After the teams exchanged punts the Tigers desperately needed to score, but turned the ball over on downs at midfield with 3:06 and one timeout left. The Rebels chewed up all but the remaining eight seconds before Auburn got the ball back at its own 33-yard line with too far to go and not enough time to tie the contest.
Rudy Ford led the Tigers in tackles with eight solos and six assists while Carlton Davis made seven solos with two assists. Cassanova McKinzy and Jonathan Jones each had six solo tackles with three assists. McKinzy had two tackles for losses, including Auburn’s only sack of the game.
“It was a big SEC fist-fight,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. “I don’t really care about stats. Just winning the game, it makes the ride home a lot sweeter.”
Asked how disappointing the loss was, Malzahn said, "Obviously, last week was extremely tough the way we lost at the end. We are disappointed. Our guys fought their tail off against one of the better teams in our league and had chances to win and we didn’t.
"We have to reach deep down next week as players and coaches and we will," he added. "I will tell you what, this team is going to fight. We are going to play hard and get after it and hopefully we will be a little healthier next week too.”
The Tigers will return to action next Saturday with a road trip to Texas A&M. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. CSt.
Worth Noting, Part 1: Treadwell caught seven passes for 114 yards vs. the Tigers while Auburn’s Louis caught four passes for 137 yards.
Worth Noting, Part 2: Senior transfer Blake Countess got his first interceptions as a Tiger. He had six while playing for Michigan. Frost, a senior, has three career interceptions with ones in each of the last two games.
Stat Of the Game: Auburn’s failure on third downs allowed Ole Miss to run 91 plays, 18 more than the Tigers.
Stat of the Game, Part 2: Ole Miss topped the 500 yards total offense mark for the first time, but the 558 yards was the first time this season the Rebels did it vs. an SEC opponent.