Offensively, Auburn appears to be coming into its own after two consecutive solid games and the improving health of key players such as quarterback Brandon Cox.
On the defensive side of the ball there is more uncertainty as the unit once again gave up big chunks of yardage, this time to the Tulane Green Wave. Facing an Ole Miss offense that relies on the running game and the occasional big play from quarterback Brent Schaeffer, coordinator Will Muschamp says that the first order of business is to try to slow bruising running back Benjarvus Green-Ellis and the Rebel rushing attack.
"You've got to stop the run," Muschamp says. "You've got to get them out of the running game. That's what they want to do. They want to be able to eat clock and keep our offense off the field and manage the game. That's what they want to do and what most teams are going to do against us. We've got to stop the run. That's the number one thing.
"The second thing you have to talk about is big plays," he adds. "We've got to limit the number of big plays we're giving up, the big chunks of yardage where field position is changing.
"Normally that's when he's at his best, when he's creating a play. The protection breaks down and it's a naked or a sprintout and all of the sudden he's on the edge and running or throwing the ball deep. They are young at wideout, but they've got some capable athletes."
Schaeffer is averaging just 112.9 yards passing per game and is completing only 45.9 percent of his passes.
For the Rebels the offense begins with Green-Ellis. Leading the SEC with 706 total rushing yards and third in the league with five rushing touchdowns, Green-Ellis is a physical runner who wears down opponents effectively. Averaging 20 carries per game, the Indiana transfer will get the ball early and often and Auburn will need to keep him from getting in a rhythm and force the pass if they hope to stop the Ole Miss offense.
"Benjarvus Green-Ellis is a kid from St. Aug's (St. Augustine High in New Orleans) that we recruited at LSU," Muschamp says."He went to Indiana and played for Al (Borges). He was the Big 10 Freshman of the Year and he's a guy that's a power runner. He's not a tremendous speed guy, but he's a guy that certainly can bounce and get the ball to the edge. He does a great job of running inside the tackles."
Up front the Rebels do a good job of run blocking led by massive tackle Michael Oher. One of the nation's top recruits coming out of high school, Oher has come into his own and will be a big challenge for Auburn's defensive ends trying to get pressure on Schaeffer.
Most weeks that would be a concern facing the opposing quarterback, but against a player like Schaeffer Auburn has to take a different approach in passing situations. Having problems with mobile quarterbacks this season getting out of the pocket, Muschamp says the Tigers have to contain the speedy lefty and force him to win the game from the pocket.
"The quarterback Schaeffer is an outstanding athlete," Muschamp says. "He can beat you throwing it when he's on. Any time you come into an offense right before two-a-days start it takes a little while to get your feel for what you are trying to do. I think that has been the case with him. He's been kind of hot and cold throughout the season for them. He certainly is a guy that we've got to get contained in the pocket. He's an outstanding scrambler. He's a guy that can create a lot of plays.
"He's got good speed and good elusiveness and he's a guy that can get on the edge and give you some problems," he adds. "We've got to keep him hemmed up in the pocket. We've worked on pass rush discipline and edge discipline all week of trying to contain the football. The teams that have played well against him that's what they've been able to do. The teams he's been able to get on the edge with he's created some plays."
Auburn's pass defense gets a boost this week with the return of redshirt freshman safety Aairon Savage after he missed the Tulane game because of a burner in his shoulder. Also linebacker Tray Blackmon is expected to play after dealing with tonsillitis this week. Muschamp says he feels like the team is ready to put on a good performance.
"We had a good week of practice and a good week of preparation," the coordinator says. "The kids are excited about getting back in SEC play and going and playing a good running football team. The last time we played a team like that we didn't play as well as we would have liked. The kids are up for the challenge."