StatTiger: Inside the Numbers, AU at Ole Miss

Columnist Stuart Carter breaks down the numbers to analyze Auburn's SEC road trip this week to Ole Miss.

At Ole Miss/2005 record: 3-8/2006 record: 2-6

Offensive Numbers: 73 rushing/208 passing/281 total/13 points per game

Defensive Numbers: 153 rushing/179 passing/332 total/22 points per game

Returning Starters: Offense: 5/ Defense: 5

Against Auburn since 1999:

Record: 2-5 (Auburn's won five of the last six meetings)

Auburn Numbers: 179 rushing/190 passing/369 total/27 points per game

Ole Miss Numbers: 83 rushing/227 passing/310 total /20 points per game

2006 Numbers and Rankings:

Total Offense..........112th nationally, 260.6 yards per game

Scoring Offense......112th nationally, 13.0 points per game

Total Defense...........88th nationally, 367.0 yards per game

Scoring Defense.......83rd nationally, 25.6 points per game

The Last Time Out

The Ole Miss Rebels are coming off a 38-3 hammering by the Arkansas Razorbacks despite holding the Razorbacks to just 141 yards rushing. The Razorbacks had three touchdown plays of 45 yards or more, scoring 21 points in the first quarter.

Field position was a major factor in the lopsided game as the Razorbacks started six of eleven offensive possessions at their own 40-yard line or better.

Auburn racked up win No. 7 of the season with a 38-13 victory over the Tulane Green Wave. Despite missing several key starters on offense, Brandon Cox was nearly perfect with three touchdown passes and Ben Tate registered his second 100-yard rushing game of the season. The Tigers continued to have issues on the defensive side of the ball, giving up 389 yards to the Green Wave offense.

About Ole Miss

Running back, BenJarvus Green-Ellis is the star of the Ole Miss offense with 706 yards rushing and five touchdowns. The former Indiana Hoosier combines the size and speed the Rebels need in the backfield. Quarterback Brent Schaeffer has over 900 yards in passing and an additional 283 yards rushing, excluding sacks.

Reserve running back, Marshay Green leads the Rebels in receptions with 16 catches on the season. The Rebels have big-play potential at the wide receiver position with Mike Hicks and Mike Wallace. Both have averaged better than 18 yards per reception on the season and Hicks is a very imposing player at 6-3, 215.

Place-kicker, Joshua Shene is 7-9 in field goals and 11-11 on point-after attempts.

Many consider Patrick Willis one of the top linebackers in the country. The 6-2, 230 senior has 86 tackles, including seven stops behind the line of scrimmage. Juco transfer linebacker Rory Johnson is No. 2 on the Rebel defense with 53 combined tackles on the season. Linebacker Gary Pack was dismissed from the team this week along with reserve linebacker Quentin Taylor, who was projected as a starter before the season began.

True freshman defensive end Greg Hardy is the leading tackler on the defensive line followed by defensive tackle Brandon Jenkins. Free safety Charles Clark has registered the only interception for the Ole Miss defense, but he did return it for 52 yards. Cornerbacks, Nate Banks and Trumaine McBride both have five pass breakups on the season to go along with 64 combined tackles. As a unit, the Rebel defense has totaled 40 tackles behind the line, including nine sacks and 13 forced-fumbles.

About Auburn

Quarterback Brandon Cox moved up to No. 22 nationally in pass efficiency after tossing three touchdown passes against Tulane last Saturday. Cox comes into the Ole Miss game healthier than he's been since the LSU contest.

Despite missing two complete games this season, Kenny Irons is No. 21 in the nation in rushing with 97 yards per game. He is expected to start this week after sitting out the Tulane game.

Courtney Taylor leads the team with 35 receptions, catching his first touchdown on the season against Tulane. Brad Lester has nearly 400 yards in total offense along with seven touchdowns. The redshirt label has been removed from Ben Tate, who clearly has displayed more than enough potential to support Irons and Lester in the Auburn backfield.

Will Herring, Eric Brock and Karibi Dede are the top three tacklers on the Auburn defense. End Quentin Groves leads Auburn in tackles behind the line and quarterback sacks. Cornerback David Irons leads the Tigers with nine pass breakups with an additional 29 tackles on the season.

The Tigers might have the best kicking game in the nation with Kody Bliss, Matt Clark and John Vaughn. Bliss currently averages over 46 yards per punt and Clark has hammered 36 of his 43 kickoffs for touchbacks. Vaughn became Auburn's all time leading scorer last week and is 14-17 in field goals this season.

Keys to Victory

The Rebels have struggled on offense, mainly in the passing game. Quarterback Brent Schaeffer is a major threat to run the ball, but he has only completed 46 percent of his passes.

*Excluding yards lost in sacks, the Rebels are averaging 160 yards rushing per game. Simply put, if the Rebels cannot establish a running game they have no chance at victory. The Rebels average 18 points per game with 119 yards or more rushing and four points per game with less than 119 yards rushing.

*The Auburn defense has struggled this season defending the spread option. In the last five games, Auburn has allowed an average of 150 yards and 4.3 yards per carry on the ground.

*Because Schaeffer is not an accurate passer, look for the Rebels to utilize a short passing game to keep the Auburn defense honest and to build confidence in the Ole Miss passing game. Stretching out the Auburn defense with the spread option should open up running lanes for the Ole Miss running backs.

*In their five SEC games, Ole Miss has scored 47 points in the first half and only 19 in the second half. It's important the Ole Miss offense executes early on with a trend to collapse as the game progresses.

*Excluding the Buffalo and Tulane games, Auburn has averaged only 13.6 points per game in the three games the Tiger offense was held to 60 plays or less. Playing "keep away" from the Tiger offense will increase the opportunity for the Rebels to win.

Kenny Irons is expected to return to action this week after sitting out the victory over Tulane.

*In the last four games, the Auburn offense has averaged 317 yards and 25 points per game. The defense has allowed 345 yards and 19 points per game. Opposing offenses are staying on the field too long, converting on 48 percent of their third-down conversions.

*It will be important for the Auburn offense to get off to a good start against the Rebels. As long as the game remains close, Ole Miss can afford to remain conservative on offense to avoid Schaeffer from being exposed in the passing game.

*Though Brandon Cox is not putting up huge numbers, his efficiency level has improved over the last four games. During the first four games, Cox completed 58 percent of his passes on third down, converting 41.7 percent into first downs. In the last four games, Cox has completed 73 percent of his third down passes with a 50 percent conversion rate.

*Offensive coordinator Al Borges needs to be more aggressive in his play calling, especially on first down. Ole Miss will certainly sell out to stop the Auburn running game, leaving the secondary exposed on early downs. Cox is 23-31 passing on first and second downs during the last two games for an average of 9.2 yards per pass attempt.

*Tackle, tackle and tackle. Two of the biggest problems on the Auburn defense have been missed tackles and taking poor angles on the ball carrier. Ole Miss has two powerful running backs and a very elusive quarterback capable of turning a two-yard gain into a ten-yard gain.

*In the four games Auburn has averaged more than six yards per play on first down, the Tiger offense averaged 35 points per game. In the four games they did not, Auburn averaged only 19 points per game.

Final Thoughts

Ed Orgeron is 1-8 against Division I opponents with a winning record with an average score of 25-8. The lone victory came against a 7-5 Memphis Tigers in Orgeron's debut as the Ole Miss head coach. On paper, the Auburn Tigers should be able to beat the Rebels by 24 points, but it probably won't happen this Saturday. Though short-handed, the Rebels have enough talent at certain positions to keep this game closer than one might expect.

Coach Tommy Tuberville is still searching for the resolution to improve a defense that is currently playing at a bend but don't break level. Fortunately for Auburn, the Tigers have increased the number of forced-turnovers in the last four games. During the first four games of the season, the defense averaged one forced-turnover every 60 plays. It has improved to one every 29 plays in the last four ball games.

Until the leaks on defense can be patched, Ole Miss possesses enough talent in its running game to give Auburn problems on defense. It won't be enough to win the game, but it could be enough to make Auburn look ugly in a close victory. The Rebels took Alabama to overtime and held the Arkansas running game to 141 yards.

On the season, Auburn is plus six on offense and minus 12 on defense in terms of average scoring margins. In the last three games, Auburn has dropped to plus three on offense and minus seven on defense. The opening line on the game has the Auburn Tigers favored by 17 points. The current numbers and trends equates to a closer game, but a definite Auburn victory.

Auburn 27, Ole Miss 12

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