The offense started slowly, but built momentum as Ronnie Brown punished the Rebels with his power running on a day in which he rushed for 224 yards and three touchdowns on 33 carries.
Ronnie Brown races into the end zone on a 21-yard touchdown run.
Coach Tommy Tuberville said the difference in the game was three interceptions by the defense and the running of Brown combined with the blocking of the maturing Tiger offensive line. He noted that the victory in Oxford was a game his Tigers definitely needed to win. The man who made the big play late in the game agreed.
"This was an important win for us to keep our goals alive of winning the SEC West and going to Atlanta," noted senior safety Travaris Robinson, who came up with the game-saving interception of Eli Manning in the end zone with 1:32 to play. Robinson had dropped another potential interception earlier in the game, but came through on his mulligan when the game was on the line. He said that made his second chance even sweeter after getting some heat from defensive coordinator and secondary coach Gene Chizik for missing the earlier opportunity.
Auburn was clinging to a 31-24 lead, but Manning had the hot hand and had moved the Rebels to first down and 10 at the Auburn 11. After two running plays netted just three yards, Manning looked into the end zone for receiver Trey Freyfoggle. The junior quarterback started running towards the line of scrimmage and the receiver assumed that Manning was going to try to run up the middle. He broke off his pass route to block and Robinson was the only person in the vicinity looking to make a play on the ball, which he did on a low, line-drive of a pass.
Even though the Rebels had timeouts to stop the clock, they needed heavier weapons than they possessed to slow down Brown, who was a one-man Army on Saturday.
"I think Ronnie Brown made the offensive line look good today," senior center Ben Nowland said. "We didn't get off to a good start, but we picked it up and he had a lot to do with getting us started."
The victory improved the Tigers' record to 4-2 in the SEC and 6-3 overall. It made Auburn bowl eligible and kept Tommy Tuberville's team very much in the hunt for the SEC West title. Ole Miss, which dropped to 2-3 in the SEC West and 5-4 overall, is just about out of the race. Tiger quarterback Jason Campbell said it was like a playoff game with the loser likely to be eliminated from the SEC race.
Ole Miss coach David Cutcliffe said his team showed a lot of courage by rallying twice from two touchdown deficits in both the first and second halves only to come up short. He said he was particularly pleased that the Rebels didn't fall apart after seeing a 17-16 lead turn into a 31-17 auburn lead. "We could have folded the tent at that point," he noted. "We fought back and had a chance to tie the game."
Cutcliffe was not proud of the way his defense was overpowered. "Auburn did a great job of blocking," he said. "You've got to defeat blocks and we didn't do that. When you give a running back a chance to make long runs, he can get hot, and Ronnie did in today's game."
Auburn scored on the fourth play of the second quarter after converting a fourth and four two plays earlier from the 18 when tight end Robert Johnson caught a 16-yard pass from Campbell, who rolled out right. Brown got one at right guard and scored from the one outside of left guard a player later.
After another strong defensive stand by the Tigers, Auburn put together a quick scoring drive in contrast to the first one that covered 92 yards on 11 plays. Brown again delivered for the touchdown, this time from 49 yards out on third and one at the Ole Miss 49. He wasn't touched on the play as Auburn jumped the lead to 14-0.
Ole Miss responded with a long drive to cut the gap to 14-3. The Rebels kept the ball for 6:49 before settling for a 30-yard field goal by Jonathan Nichols with 4:32 left in the second quarter.
Neither team threatened to score after that in the first half although the Tigers had a chance for a big defensive play deep in Ole Miss territory when Manning overthrew his receiver and hit safety Robinson, who let the ball get away with lots of room to run for a return.
At the half, Auburn led 14-3 with Brown the big story with 152 yards on 16 carries. The Auburn defense allowed Ole Miss just 90 total yards in the first half with 80 coming on the passing of Manning, who was 11-21 with no interceptions. At the break, Auburn netted 205 yards on 33 plays while Ole Miss held the ball for 33 plays, too.
In addition to Brown, the solid play of the defense was big, too. Except for the field goal drive, Auburn defensive linemen Spencer Johnson, Reggie Torbor, Bret Eddins and DeMarco McNeil were able to put pressure on the Ole Miss quarterback.
The Rebels came out hot to start the third quarter and moved 80 yards on six plays to cut the gap to 14-10. The touchdown came on a 49-yard bomb to Chris Collins, who beat Rashaud Walker in the end zone.
Auburn scored next after a brilliant special teams play. A Damon Duval 45-yard punt, which was downed at the Ole Miss one by Walker, led to a safety two plays later when Manning was tripped by his own center as he tried to pass on third down at his own one. That made the score 16-10.
A Tiger turnover, set up by a holding call and a 14-yard loss by Brown as he tried to reverse field, gave Ole Miss possession at the Auburn 44 after Silas Daniels was blasted on a pass over the middle that was recovered by Eddie Strong.
Six plays later the Rebels made Auburn pay for the error as Manning caught the Tigers in a blitz and hit a 12-yard TD pass to Collins as he cut over the middle to beat single coverage by Carlos Rogers.
Carlos Rogers set up a Tiger score with his interception.
After Tre Smith mishandled the following kickoff and backed Auburn up to its own 11, the Tigers went three and out. A big play by the kicking game helped AU again. Duval's 51-yard punt followed by a holding penalty on the play, backed Ole Miss up to its own 22. On the next play, Rogers got the first turnover of the game for the Tigers when he intercepted an intermediate route and returned it 13 yards to the Ole Miss 21.
On the next play, Brown had a big hole on the left side of the ball and scored to put the Tigers ahead 22-17. Auburn made the percentage call to go for two and on a rollout Campbell pass to Smith in the corner of the end zone for two.
On the next possession, Auburn got its second turnover when Horace Willis craddled a deflected pass at the Tiger 47 with 2:03 left in the third quarter. Seven plays later, Auburn cashed in with a 20-yard pass from Campbell to freshman Ben Obomanu, who was wide open as Auburn faked running an option play right. Obomanu ran a route going the other direction and it completely fooled the secondary. That made the score 31-17 with 14:02 left.
Ole Miss then put together an impressive drive of its own, going 73 yards on eight plays with Manning hitting Collins for an eight-yard touchdown pass on a slant route over the middle vs. an Auburn blitz. That made the score 31-24 with 11:17 left.
Auburn tried to add insurance on a 50-yard Damon Duval field goal. The Auburn senior said he hit the kick well, but it was about a yard wide. Ole Miss got the ball back with 7:48 to play and kept it until Robinson's interception in the end zone ended the threat. "Even when you see the quarterback scrambling, we are supposed to stay in coverage and that is what I did," Robinson said. "That God I got I got a chance to get one. That was big for the defense. It gives us something to continue to build on."
Robinson's coach agreed with his senior safety. "That was good for the confidence of the defense to make a big play when we needed," said defensive coordinator Gene Chizik, whose secondary now has an SEC-leading 18 interceptions for the season.
The Tigers will take Sunday off in a departure from the norm and will practice on Monday as they begin preparations for their homecoming game vs. Louisiana-Monroe.
Quote Of The Day: "We were messing around with Eli in the first half and that slowed him down, but he is a smart quarterback and he picked it up in the second half and we had to adjust a little more."--Travaris Robinson
Player Of The Game: Offensive Star Of The Game: Ronnie Brown has come to the rescue of the running game with Carnell Williams out for the season.
Defensive Stars Of the Game: Travaris Robinson, who had seven tackles and an interception, had a big day as did the wounded warrior, Spencer Johnson, who shook off his nagging high ankle sprain and gave the Tigers a much-needed pass rush in the first half before re-aggravating the ankle. He had a sack and three tackles and helped the Tigers jump to a 14-3 halftime lead. Spencer was limping badly after the game but there was nothing wrong with his smile.