Third Downs The Difference For Tiger Defense

Auburn held Ole Miss 175 yards below its average on Saturday, but it wasn't enough to pull out the win in a key SEC Western Division battle.

Auburn, Ala.--Sometimes things don't work as out planned even when the job is done to satisfaction. That is the case for the Auburn defense in Saturday's heartbreaking 24-20 loss to the Ole Miss Rebels at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Holding Eli Manning and company to just 302 yards and 24 points wasn't enough to get the win in a game that saw Auburn miss opportunity after opportunity to win the game.

Defensively, those opportunities came mostly on third downs. All season long Coach Gene Chizik has preached to his team the importance of getting off the field and Saturday was no different. For the most part they have been successful, but 10 times out of 18 chances Ole Miss converted third downs in Saturday's game. That stat told the tale for the Tigers as in the end they were just a play here or play there from pulling out the win.

"He's a good quarterback," Chizik said of Manning. "He stroked some balls in there and hit some in there on us. We couldn't come up with plays when we needed to come up with plays. That's what happened. End of story."

Defensive tackle Spencer Johnson causes a Manning fumble in Saturday's game. Ole Miss recovered the ball and neither team had a turnover on the day.

Despite the loss Auburn's much-maligned secondary played one of its better games of the season Saturday against the Heisman Trophy candidate Manning. Just 19-30 on the day for 218 yards, Manning was under constant pressure from the Tigers and was sacked a season-high four times on the day. Coming into the game he had been sacked just 12 times all year. Safety Will Herring said that was just part of a game that was all about effort and heart for the defense.

"Overall you can't ask any more of the guys as far as effort," Herring said. "I think we gave it everything we've got. In a couple of key situations we had some breakdowns, myself being the main one a couple of times. It was a guy here or a guy there that had a breakdown in key situations. Overall you can't ask any more than what we laid on the line today. We went to battle and just came up short."

One of the biggest, if not the biggest play of the game defensively came on Ole Miss' last offensive drive of the game. Facing a third and five on their own 40-yard line, the Rebels pulled out a play they had not run all day and it worked to perfection. Sending two receivers into a zone occupied by an Auburn linebacker, Manning made the Tigers choose a coverage and hit a wide open receiver out of the backfield for 48 yards. The Rebels would score the eventual game-winning touchdown four plays later.

"It was an out-and-up with the running back and the linebacker is supposed to take it," cornerback Kevin Hobbs said. "He didn't take it and it was a letdown in coverage. I had to go inside with my receiver. The linebacker is supposed to get the running back and it didn't happen that way. I think what happened is that when he started scrambling Eli told him to just go up and he threw it to him. Me and Junior (Junior Rosegreen) had to rally and make the tackle."

Auburn now turns its attention to rival Georgia for Saturday's showdown in Athens. Now just 6-4 on the season, the Tigers have to regroup in a hurry for the two most important games of the year from a rivalry standpoint. Senior Demarco McNeil said it's tough to think about those games now, but without a doubt they'll be ready to play come next weekend.

"Everybody is disappointed with what happened and how it happened mostly," McNeil said. "We let some opportunities slip away, but when it came down to it we just didn't get the job done.

"These games mean more than going to the SEC Championship. Regardless if the SEC Championship is on the line you have to play this because they are Georgia and Auburn. We're going to be ready next week. It hurts, but we'll be fine."

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