Before that you had to go all the way back to Archie Manning Era to find an Ole Miss team challenging for a title down the home stretch of the SEC schedule. It seems fitting that one of the few Rebel teams to strive for glory should have a Manning at the helm as Archie's youngest son Eli Manning leads the Rebels into Auburn with a confident and explosive team looking to stretch out its lead in the division with just two games remaining after the trip to Auburn.
For Auburn this game will be a challenge for a secondary and defense that has been up-and-down against the pass this season. Despite being ranked second in the conference and 14th nationally in pass defense, giving up just 183.1 yards per game, the Tigers have given up yardage lately over the middle in both the Tennessee and LSU games. Linebacker Dontarrious Thomas said this week's game is all about keeping Manning guessing at the line of scrimmage and not letting him get comfortable in the game.
"I think we need to try to mix it up as far as stopping the run and disguise our coverage to not let them know where you're coming from," Thomas says. "When the opportunity comes for us to blitz we have to get back there as quickly as possible before Eli can pick up on the read and get rid of the ball.
"It's going to be back-and-forth on who can disguise and play the mind game the best," he adds. "Hopefully, we can go out and do some things that will shake him up and get up under him. It's going to be real tough. What it boils down to is us playing defense and good coverage."
Thomas waits for the signals from the Auburn sideline during Saturday's win over Louisiana-Monroe.
A quarterback who has seen just about everything a defense can throw at him, Manning is cool in the pocket and doesn't often get flustered. He's also one of the best at the position at getting rid of the ball and not taking sacks. This season the Rebels have allowed just 12 sacks in 325 pass attempts. Thomas says the defense is going to have to keep Manning guessing long enough to create some problems for the senior.
"You definitely have to disguise it," Thomas says of the coverages and defenses against a quarterback like Manning. "He's smart and that comes from his father and his brother and things in his past. We're definitely going to have to disguise it and throw different looks at him. We have to try to confuse him and get him a little rattled in the head. We can't sit back and let him know where we're coming from because he'll pick us apart."
Expecting a lot of passes to be thrown, the Tigers have been working on building depth for this game and similar games much of the season. That was evident in Saturday's lopsided win over Louisiana-Monroe when the defensive starters were out of the game in the second half and the reserves took over and closed the game out after seeing a lot of action in the first half, too. Earning some valuable experience was something Thomas says should pay dividends beginning this week against the Rebels.
Eli Manning looks to avoid pressure from Dtonarrious Thomas (54) in Auburn's 27-21 victory two seasons ago. Auburn has won nine of the last 10 games vs. the Rebels, who are ranked 20th and 24th in the polls this week.
"That game was a lot about getting more guys experience and getting them to look at their keys and fitting properly and things like that," Thomas notes. "We were able to get some guys' confidence level up and give them a look at what they're going to be seeing. Hopefully, they were able to pick it up and everybody seemed to execute well.
"Hopefully, that will carry over to this week because we're going to need everybody in order to do good in this game," Thomas says.