Defense Dominates As Tigers Stop Rebels

Comments from coaches and players are featured after Auburn's 27-3 football victory over Ole Miss.

Auburn, Ala.--Auburn's defense put together a strong four-quarter effort to lead the Tigers to a 27-3 SEC football victory over the visiting Ole Miss Rebels on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium that even had the hard to please David Gibbs smiling.

Auburn's first-year defensive coordinator said, "I was proud of the way our guys responded after a tough loss last week. I thought we played with some emotion. Our guys played hard. I thought our (goal line stand) stop in the first quarter was big for us. That got our momentum going."

Offensively, the Tigers weren't as impressive, but Kenny Irons had his fifth 100-yard rushing game with 101 net yards and one TD on 32 carries.

Brandon Cox completed 17-27 passes for 205 yards and another score on a day that a blitzing Ole Miss defense gave the Tigers pass protection problems. Cox was sacked four times and had to throw the ball away on other plays.

After missing five field goals a week earlier in the overtime loss to LSU, John Vaughn rewarded Tommy Tuberville for sticking with the junior by making both of his field goal tries. "I am really proud of him," Tuberville said. "He has got his technique and form back."

Vaughn's made field goals drew a big cheer from the crowd of 85,791. "John did a good job," the head coach added. "We appreciate the fans sticking with him. He had a big smile on his face."

Tuberville said he really liked the play of the defense, a group that looks like it wants to return to Atlanta to defend its SEC Championship. "That is what we are playing for," said junior defensive end Marquies Gunn, who made six solo tackles, including three for losses and one sack.

"I think that was probably our best game of the year on defense," Gunn added. "I know it was my best game."

Ole Miss rushed for 23 yards on 27 carries and finished the day with 209 total yards to 362 for the winners.

Reserve cornerback Montae Pitts led the Tigers with seven tackles, all solo, while Jonathan Wilhite had six solo stops and cornerback David Irons, safety Steve Gandy and safety Kevin Hobbs were each in on six tackles. For Gandy, it was his first college start and he made the game a memorable one with his first interception.

"Gandy looked like he did a good job for us," Gibbs said. "He has played a lot for us this year so it wasn't like he hadn't been out there much."

After a scoreless first quarter, Auburn scored touchdowns in each of the next three periods and added a pair of field goals in the second quarter.

"It was a good comeback from last week," Tuberville said. "Our guys fought hard. Obviously, it looked like we had a little bit of a headache in the first quarter. We made some mistakes, mental mistakes, and we don't normally make too many of those. We overcame them.

"I thought our defense really played outstanding," Tuberville added. "The goal line stand was phenomenal. We continue to get better defensively. We are one of those bend don't break...We don't give a lot of negative plays, but we are starting to play better overall from the front seven to the back four."

Auburn improved to 6-2 overall and 4-1 in the SEC while the Rebels fell to 3-5 overall and 1-4 in the conference. For Ole Miss, the 24-point margin of the defeat was the worst for first-year head coach Ed Orgeron, whose Rebels had lost by 17 to Tennessee and 10 to Wyoming, eight to Vanderbilt and three to Alabama.

"It was a grind it out game, a battle of wills," said Auburn offensive coordinator Al Borges. "Ole Miss did a good job. They were making it tough on us. They have some good players up there. Our kids hung in there and the defense played good the whole way.

"It wasn't pretty on offense," Borges added. "We had to bail ourselves out a couple of times with third down conversions."

Auburn leads the SEC in that category and had another good day, converting 8-17 while LSU made just 4-15.

Orgeron said the third down plays were an issue for his Rebs and said Auburn's early goal line stand was huge. "It wasn't good. They took over the game physicaly and we needed those points at the beginning of the game."

Penalties plagued the Tigers in the opening half as the home team didn't look sharp offensively and had a turnover in the kicking game.

The only Ole Miss points were set up by a fumbled punt by Tre Smith as the Tigers took a 13-3 lead at intermission. The junior said he lost the punt in the sun as it angled toward the northeast sideline. That led to the only points of the game for the visitors.

The Rebels had the first scoring opportunity when they got the ball at the AU 40 after Jonathan Wilhite got a 15-yard penalty for interference on making a punt catch.

The Rebels moved all the way to first and goal at the AU three with the help of a holding penalty on David Irons that kept the drive alive.

However, the Tigers made a stand there. QB Michael Spurlock ran one yard ar right end before Brandon Jackson ran to the one. On the next play, he was stuffed by T.J. Jackson for a loss to near the three. Ole Miss bypassed the field goal try. A pitch to Jacobs was off target and hit the ground. Auburn took over at the 14-yard line.

The Tigers drove the ball 16 plays and 82 yards only to come up empty, too. With first and goal from the three, Irons had no gain on two runs and then Cox was incomplete on third down. AU bypassed the field goal, too, but Cox couldn't find a receiver despite having plenty of time and threw the ball away. Tuberville said the decision not to kick the field goal had nothing to do with Vaughn's bad game at LSU. The coach said he wanted to keep the Rebels pinned deep if Auburn didn't score.

That strategy worked as Auburn held the Rebels and got good field position at the Ole Miss 39.

After the Tigers converted a fourth and inches on a quarterback sneak by Cox, a sneaky play put the home team on top 7-0.

Wide receiver Courtney Taylor took the handoff on a reverse. He pulled up short of the line of scrimmage with a jump stop and the former high school quarterback tossed a 28-yard TD pass to Devin Aromashodu who was open on the right sideline. AU led 7-0 with 13:07 left in the second quarter.

"It took a while for them to take the fake, but they finally took it," said Taylor, who has been lobbying coaches for more than a year to let him run that play.

The Rebels cut the gap to 7-3 with 8:41 left in the half after Smith's fumbled punt. The Rebs got the ball at the AU 28, but could only move two yards before kicking the 43-yard field goal by Matt Hinkle.

The Tigers responded with a field goal, a 35-yarder by John Vaughn with 2:37 left in the half to complete a 13-play, 63-yard drive.

The defense set up the next points courtesy of Mississippi native Steve Gandy, the redshirt freshman who made his first college start. The free safety picked off a Spurlock pass and returned it 29 yards to the Rebel 23.

Steve Gandy's interception helped the Tigers take a more comfortable lead into halftime.

Although the offense had 1:45 and a timeout left, the Tigers were three and out as Cox was sacked before hitting Obomanu for seven and throwing incomplete on third down. Vaughn's 39-yard field goal came with 51 seconds left in the half to put the Tigers ahead 13-3.

After holding the visitors to just 87 yards in the first half, the defense put a three and out on the Rebs to start the third quarter.

The offense only had to move 42 yards after a 27-yard punt return by Smith that the Tigers nearly turned the ball over on with another fumble. The officials ruled it was the Rebels' ball, however, the replay official overturned the call, saying it was dead when Jonathan Wilhite touched the ball while Wilhite was out of bounds.

AU then moved the ball into scoring territory mainly on running back plays before Cox threw a one-yard TD pass to Obomanu on fourth down after the Rebs jumped offsides anticipating the count. The senior made an acrobatic catch in the corner of the end zone as the Tigers stretched their lead to 20-3 with 6:46 left in the third quarter.

The Tigers put together a 10-play, 94-yard drive in the fourth quarter that could have iced the game. Instead, the Tigers turned the ball over when it was ruled that Cox fumbled when he was hit as throwing a pass. That questionable call stood, but the Rebels were backed up at their own five and couldn't move.

The Tigers took over at the Ole Miss 25 after a short punt and a 15-yard interference on the catch call as Smith tried to field the punt.

On the next play Ben Obomanu ran for 16 yards around left end and then a late hit penalty put the Tigers first and goal at the four.

Kenny Irons scored on the next play. "It was jammed up inside, but I cut it outside and there was room to run," the junior said. "After not scoring before, we needed that touchdown."

Auburn led 27-3 with 5:34 left and was able to play some reserves while holding on to the victory.

Auburn returns to action next Saturday at noon CST at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington vs. the Kentucky Wildcats.

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