While the defense was registering three sacks on quarterback Eli Manning, who had only been sacked seven times all season entering the game, the offensive line was plowing through an Ole Miss defense that had no answer.
Leading the way for tailback Ronnie Brown to rush for a career-high 224 yards and three touchdowns, the offensive line drew praise from both Coach Tommy Tuberville and Brown following the game. Tuberville also said that Brown has grown up in the last two weeks as Auburn's featured runner and that became evident in Saturday's 33-carry performance.
"Offensively, we did just good enough to win the game," Tuberville said. "We controlled the football, we kept our defense off the field most of the first half. We ground it out and made some big plays. Ronnie Brown continues to make major strides, but again it starts with the offensive line. Ronnie had over 200 yards and not a turnover. It was good to see him run with second and third effort. That's the biggest thing Ronnie has improved on. It was a good performance out of him."
Running back Ronnie Brown plows over Alabama native Eric Oliver for a big gain against the Rebels.
Running mostly against defenses designed specifically to stop him, Brown still managed to carve up the Rebels like a turkey on Thanksgiving. With run-after-run into the Ole Miss secondary, the sophomore was the star of the day, but he said that this was a team win to survive on the road like the Tigers did but he liked what he saw out of the offense when it came crunch time.
"It was pretty tough," Brown said. "I can't ask any more from my offensive line. They came out after they took the lead and stepped up a whole lot. Unfortunately Eli was able to come out and make some big plays. He's a tremendous quarterback but our offense just got rolling and stepped up a whole lot."
Despite a day where the Tigers ran for 254 yards and had 367 in total offense, Coach Bobby Petrino said following the game that he's still concerned with his offense's slow starts in games. With just 28 yards of offense the first three possessions, the Tigers leaned on the defense to keep them in the game until they got untracked and that's exactly what happened Saturday as some key stops of Manning and company led to some offensive momentum.
"We didn't have them ready," Petrino said. "We thought we had them ready. We were worried all week long that they probably didn't practice as well on Tuesday as we have been. They did come out Thursday and have a real good practice. We just didn't do a real good job of getting them completely ready for the game. We just didn't execute and do the things we're supposed to do early in the game. I got on them a little bit on the sidelines and Coach (Hugh) Nall did a good job of adjustments. They started to come around and play like they had the previous six quarters. That's what we've been challenging them to do."
Quarterback Jason Campbell didn't have the best of days under center, but once again the Tigers came away victorious behind the sophomore. Just 11-of-21 for 113 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions, the Mississippi native did just enough to get the job done against the Rebels. He just missed a big day numbers-wise with drops from both Lorenzo Diamond and Devin Aromashodu costing the Tigers in the passing game. Still he says it doesn't matter as long as they can hand the ball off and move it down the field.
"It makes it a lot easier when you have a good running game behind you," Campbell said. "You saw Ole Miss today. They are a great passing team, but if they had a great running game they would be real dominant, they would be hard to stop. Having a running game behind you makes everything balanced."
Petrino agreed with his quarterback, saying that he thought the running game was the key to the victory Saturday. Also noting that Campbell seemed to be more nervous than usual because of playing in front of friends and family, Petrino said he got better as the game went along, but he's still looking for improved play from the quarterback and the entire offense.
"He made some mistakes early in the game, but settled down the second quarter," Petrino said. "He started to play a little bit better in the second half. I didn't feel comfortable the whole game with the way we were executing. I think we're better than that, particularly in our play action game. When you drop those two big plays it tends to take a little air out of you."
When the dust had settled on the day and the tattered surface of Vaught-Hemingway was empty, the end result was a victory for the Tigers and a big road win in conference play. Once again proving to be the more physical team, junior offensive tackle Mark Pera said that's always what they strive for and they succeeded mightily Saturday.
"I feel that way going into every game," Pera said. "The offensive line and defensive line is the key. If we can control those sides of the ball then we can dominate games. That's what we had to do basically because we've got the skill players on either side of the ball to help us win so we know if we control the line of scrimmage then we'll have a good chance."