It was an uneven overall performance for the seventh-ranked Tigers who squandered a pair of scoring opportunities after long drives by making turnovers.
The Tigers also hurt their cause with a season-worst 84 yards in penalties that proved very beneficial to the home team, but Auburn kept the ball for 75 plays, 30 more than the Rebels.
Although the Auburn defense held Ole Miss to just 86 rushing yards and sacked QB Brent Schaeffer three times, it gave up enough big plays to keep the game close even though Auburn enjoyed a 428-256 edge in total yardage.
Auburn's special teams play, which had been a star of the show most of the season, was also inconsistent. However, senior John Vaughn came through by hitting all three of his field goals, including what proved to be the game-winner from 20 yards out with 7:35 to play.
Vaughn added a 29-yarder with 35 seconds left to stretch the lead to six and Matt Clark, who uncharacteristically struggled with his kickoffs earlier in the game, boomed the final kickoff deep in the end zone to force Ole Miss to go 80 yards.
"It was a good win on the road for us," said Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville. "It wasn't pretty," adds Tuberville, who praised how hard the Rebels played despite a season that has produced only two wins in nine outings.
"I was impressed with Ole Miss, how hard they played with the adversity they had been under," Tuberville said. "Coach Orgeron and his staff, they have only won a couple of games, but they have been in almost every one of them. To do what he did last week (discipline players), he shows he has got control of the program. It is good to see his players respond. They were right in there all the way to the end."
Going into the game Tuberville said that he expected a good performance from the offense. "The offense came and moved the ball at will," he said. "We were our own worst enemy. They lined up to stop the run and we threw the football and that is what you have got to do. In a couple of games, we hadn't done that. But today we said if they are going to put them all up there, we are going to throw it and we took advantage of it.
"Defensively, if you take away three or four of their plays, those big plays that had they tricked us a little bit, it was pretty much about what I thought," Tuberville said. "I thought they would get about 250 yards."
Courtney Taylor led the Auburn offense with eight catches for 108 yards and Rodgeriqus Smith had four catches for 48 as a crowd of 55,211 watched at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on a cool and breezy Saturday.
Tuberville said he thought it was Taylor's best game of the year, but the senior wide receiver said he made too many mistakes to consider it his best performance. He did note that having Smith step up at the other wideout spot afforded him the opportunity to open. "I think that was the most single coverage I have had all year," he said.
Irons, who noted after the game he felt about 85 percent of full speed in warmups and in the game, was a workhorse for the Auburn offense. He carried the ball 23 times and was on the field for Auburn's final drive that helped secure the win.
"It felt good to be out there playing for four quarters," said Irons. "That hasn't happened in some of the other games."
Ole Miss got another big performance from All-American linebacker Patrick Willis, who made 15 tackles, including nine solo stops. Tuberville said that the Tigers had problems blocking the senior and again compared the Ole Miss star favorably with a player he coached at Miami, Ray Lewis.
"Obviously, I thought our team battled very hard today against Auburn, which is a very good football team," Ole Miss head coach Ed Orgeron said. "We had some chances to make some plays on third down and we didn't.
"I think those two turnovers in the third quarter were critical. To have a chance to win you cannot make those types of mistakes."
Auburn won the toss and deferred to open the game. Ole Miss took advantage of its first possession, quickly moving 81 yards on just six plays. A 37-yard pass from Brent Schaeffer to Robert Lane on the second play was the spark for the score.
The Tigers had a chance to take the ball away two plays later, but cornerback Jonathan Wilhite couldn't hold on to a potential interception.
Two plays later on first down, Mico McSwain scored on a 27-yard end-around as he got outside of linebacker Will Herring. McSwain was untouched on the run around right end to give the Rebels a 7-0 lead with 12:17 left in the first quarter.
Auburn responded with a score on its first possession. Cox started the drive with a 10-yard pass to Tommy Trott. The QB was six of seven on the drive for 49 yards, including a 13-yard pass on second and goal to Rodgeriqus Smith that Cox zipped to the sophomore for a touchdown.
Auburn had just been backed up after a holding call on guard Tim Duckworth after moving to the Ole Miss two. However, on the second down play after the penalty Auburn scored to tie the game at 7-7.
The Tigers only got two more possessions in the first half and both were in poor field position. The first, which started at the Auburn six-yard line, ended on play 11 in Ole Miss territory when Cox was intercepted by Charles Clark at the 12-yard line as he tried to hit Roderiqus Smith over the middle.
Auburn got the ball back at its own one-yard line with 5:06 left in the half. The Tigers managed to get out of trouble as Cox hit Smith on an eight-yard pass to start the drive. After a second first down moved the ball to the 30 on a pass of 14 to Smith, the Tigers went into hurry-up mode and Cox hit passes for 17 to Taylor and two of eight to Robert Dunn to move to a first down at the Ole Miss 37.
However, like the previous possession, the 11th play produced a turnover. This one was on a third and 13 draw play by Brad Lester, who ran for eight yards to the 32 where he fumbled the football to Greg Hardy of the Rebels with 49 seconds left in the half.
At halftime, the Tigers had totaled 228 yards of offense with Cox hitting 15-18 passes with one interception for 154 yards. The Tigers had an additional 74 yards on 19 running plays. The Rebels moved the ball well, too, with 174 yards, including 109 passing as Schaeffer hit 5-8 throws.
An unusual spot from an officiating crew that kept Tuberville yelling at the the group much of the afternoon contributed to a three and out for the Tigers to open the second half. After Irons looked like he ran for a first down past the 30, he was ruled down at the 29. An illegal procedure and a dropped pass by Taylor, who was wide open, forced Auburn's first punt of the game and it was not a thing of beauty. Ole Miss took over in great field position at its 47 after Marshay Green returned a 39-yard punt 10 yards.
Two plays later, like the Rebs did to start the game, they hit a 41-yard pass to Lane. This one went to the AU nine. Josh Thompson made a stop for a two-yard loss and two incomplete passes forced a 29-yard Joshua Shene field goal to give the home team a 10-7 lead.
The two teams exchanged punts before the Tigers came up with a big play on defense as junior Eric Brock safety intercepted a pass at the Ole Miss 41 with 8:04 left in the third quarter.
Eric Brock's interception was one of two Ole Miss turnovers.
It took the Tigers just four plays to cash in the miscue for seven points. Lester ran for three, Cox hit Taylor for 25, Lester ran for seven and then leaped head first into the end zone on a three-yard gain at right tackle. That put Auburn up 14-10 with 5:50 left in the third quarter.
Three Ole Miss plays later, Schaeffer was intercepted again, this time on a deflection to safety Aairon Savage. Auburn took over at its 48 and quickly moved into scoring position with a 15-yard pass to Taylor, a seven-yard run by Irons and an 11-yard pass to Trott.
Auburn stalled on fourth and five at the 14 and settled for a 31-yard field goal to make the score 17-10 with 55 seconds left in the third quarter.
Matt Clark's kickoff then sailed out of bounds, giving Ole Miss good field position at the 35. The Rebels drove 65 yards on nine plays tie the game with the help of a late hit penalty and a holding call on David Irons that looked questionable at best. That set up a four-yard TD pass to tight end Lawrence Lilly from Montevallo, a former Auburn verbal commitment when he was a high school senior, with 12:06 left in the game.
Special teams then came up with a special play for the Tigers. Tristan Davis caught the ball in the end zone. "Even though I was in the end zone it was a line drive kick," Davis said. I looked up field and saw my blockers were there and decided to go for the return." When Davis was finally put on the ground, the speedster gave Auburn great field position at the Auburn 45.
Cox then went to work. He hit Taylor for 12 yards and found Lee Guess for a clutch 25-yard pass play on third and 10 to the Ole Miss 11.
Cox then just missed a TD hookup with Trott on first down, Lester got a yard on second down and Guess got open in the end zone, but Cox's pass was behind the senior receiver. AU settled for the field goal with 7:35 left.
Ole Miss managed one first down after the kickoff on a pass interference call on third and 14, but Auburn forced a punt and took over at its 39 with 5:10 to play.
The Tigers held the ball for 11 plays and converted a fourth and inches with a six-yard run by Carl Stewart at left tackle that set up a Vaughn 29-yard field goal with 40 seconds left to ice the game with the help of the touchback from Clark and the sack by Gunn and Groves to end the game.
The Tigers return home for next week's game. Arkansas State will be the opponent with a 1:30 p.m. kickoff at Jordan-Hare Stadium.