Rebel Offense A Challenge, AU Coach Contends

Coach Gene Chizik discusses the challenges presented by the Ole Miss offense and what Auburn can do to prepare for three quarterbacks.

Auburn, Ala.–-Riding high with an 10-game winning streak overall and a perfect 8-0 record this season, the fourth-ranked Auburn Tigers continued preparations for the Ole Miss Rebels (3-4, 2-2 in SEC play) with a two and a half hour practice Tuesday in full pads.

Working on all phases of the game plan for the Rebels, the Tigers once again spent a great deal of time on special teams with an emphasis on punt protection and punt returns. Defensively, coordinator Gene Chizik and his squad must get ready for an offense that has played three different quarterbacks (Ethan Flatt, Michael Spurlock, Robert Lane) in several games this season. Chizik said that getting the team ready to see something like that is helped by the fact that Auburn has already faced this situation several times this season in games against LSU and Tennessee.

"That really does help," Chizik said. "We don't really know who is going to play so you just prepare for all that you see and then you talk to them about all the things that you don't see and you feel like could possibly happen. That's really where we go with it.

"They've been rotating them," he added. "They're freshmen and they've been rotating them in and out. I don't really know what they're going to do quarterback-wise, but it seems like they have a little package for each guy."

Ethan Flatt leads the Rebels with 1,074 yards passing this season and has all four touchdown passes and all seven interceptions for the team this year.

The quarterbacks are helped by a solid and veteran offensive line along with good skill players in the backfield and at wide receiver. Running back Vashon Pearson leads the team in rushing with 608 yards on 122 carries with three touchdowns. At receiver Mario Hill has 354 yards on 28 catches to lead the team, but hasn't scored this season. Chizik said their receivers and backs make you sit up and take notice along with the guys up front.

"They have the best offensive line, in my opinion, that we've played against," Chizik said. "Most of them are returning from last year so we knew they would be very good. The running backs that they have, Pearson is averaging 90 yards per game, is a good stable of running backs. The receivers are probably the best we've faced up to this point because most of them have two or three years of experience coming into the year.

"Overall they're a very dangerous offense because if the quarterback is hot and gets on and they get the running game going, which they've proven they can do, they're scary," Chizik added. "They took Tennessee right down to the wire. They really had a lot of good chances to win that game. They scored on South Carolina right at the end to beat them and they've got a very good defense. It's really going to be a knock down, drag out I think. It's going to take our best game in nine games to beat these guys."

Something Auburn will be trying to do this week is get Ole Miss in third and long situations. On the season the Rebels are converting just 29 percent on third downs while the Tigers allow opponents a first down just 28 percent of the time on third down chances.

Auburn is even better in third and long situations, giving up just two first downs when there was more than 11 yards to go. Chizik said that's something that this team has prided itself on, but it's just another of the things you have to do in order to become a good football team.

"It makes me feel good and I hope that can happen Saturday, too," Chizik said. "You always hope that when you're in third and extra long like that the advantage certainly goes to the defense. You hope you hit 80 to 85 percent of those and anything over 85 percent is really good.

"I just think this football team as a whole and defensively as a whole, is more conscious of little things entirely," Chizik said. "Not just third down, but just in a lot of different ways. I think they are a little bit more conscious of things of that nature."

Auburn's injury situation appears to be good with the exception of starting center Jeremy Ingle, who is expected to miss Saturday's game because of a sprained ankle suffered against Kentucky. Steven Ross will get the start against the Rebels if Ingle is unable to go. He didn't practice on Tuesday. True freshman Tony Bell is still hampered with a strained hamstring, but could be ready by this weekend.

The Tigers will practice Wednesday and Thursday before leaving for Oxford, Miss., on Friday afternoon. Kickoff for Saturday's game is scheduled for 6:45 p.m. and can be seen nationally on ESPN.

Inside The AU Tigers Top Stories