CR: After two straight losses on the road, Vaught-Hemingway Stadium is going to look like nirvana to the Ole Miss Rebel football team, now 3-4 as they await Saturday’s match with red hot Auburn, 5-2 overall and 3-1 in the SEC after a thorough trouncing of Arkansas, one of the teams that defeated the Rebs in the past two weeks.
There are issues with the Rebels that will have to be cleared up quickly.
One, the run defense has been has been poor, allowing nearly 270 yards a game and Auburn is second to Alabama in the SEC in rushing offense, averaging 290 yards a contest after a 543-yard outburst on the ground against the Hogs. The combination of the Rebels struggling with run defense and the Tigers surging in the run game does not bode well for Ole Miss unless Defensive Coordinator Dave Wommack and his staff can pull a rabbit out of their hats by shoring up the linebacker slots, where a lot of the problems have been this year.
Two, Auburn is balanced enough on offense, throwing for 172.5 yards a game, that Wommack will have to devise a game plan that certainly plays the run first, but has to respect the passing game of Auburn, mostly our of play-action looks. Ole Miss will have to play run first, for sure, because the leading rusher in the SEC is War Eagle Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson is 6th in the conference, but also be cognizant of Tiger QB Sean White, who is first in the SEC in passing efficiency, completing 98-143 passes while only throwing 2 picks and 7 TDs.
Three, the Tigers’ defense is pretty stout as well. They are fourth fifth in the SEC, just behind Alabama, in total defense and boast of one of the better fronts in the SEC, if not America. Hugh Freeze, and Co-OCs Dan Werner and Matt Luke are burning midnight oil trying to ensure the Rebs have a good plan of attack because the Tigers are tops in the SEC, allowing only 14.8 points a game.
On the good side, the Rebels are second in the SEC in scoring at a 34.8 points per game clip and the belief is that the home court advantage will ignite the Rebs to be what we have seen they can be, a very competent squad, but it has to be for 60 minutes, not for 30 and not in spurts. A complete game with a consistent high level of play will be necessary for the Rebs to win over the invading Tigers.
Against LSU, the special teams were solid, maybe the best they have done this year, and that certainly needs to continue as well.
Ole Miss does not have to play perfect on either side of the ball to win, but they have to play better than they have the last two games without question.
BG: To be perfectly honest, my only hesitation in picking Auburn to win Saturday is Ole Miss is playing at home. But, lest we forget, when the Rebels are right, especially offensively, they have the ability to beat any team they line up against. The problem is the Ole Miss offense hasn’t been in rhythm in two weeks, and defensively … well, we all know how bad Ole Miss has been defensively.
The Rebels are 13th in the nation in total defense. They’re 104th in rushing defense, giving up, on average, over 210 yards per game. Just last week they allowed Leonard Fournette to break a single-game LSU record for rushing yards in a game (284) and now they play host to an Auburn team that totaled 543 rushing yards — the most in SEC history for a regular-season SEC game — in a blowout of Arkansas. The Tigers had four position players rush for at least 78 yards.
Overall, Auburn is No. 3 in the country in rushing and No. 1 in the SEC. The Tigers are averaging 302.86 rushing yards per game, behind only New Mexico and Army. As if the game plan wasn’t obvious enough, Auburn is going to run, run, run at Ole Miss and then run some more. Will the Rebels do anything about it? They haven’t shown that they can to this point.
But Ole Miss under Hugh Freeze has seemingly always responded in what appeared to be the worst of times. Many were convinced after the Rebels lost at Memphis last season Ole Miss was cooked. The Rebels won four of their next five games en route to the Sugar Bowl. Granted, the defense was in a far better place last season, but the point is Ole Miss has usually found a way to get a win when it desperately needed it. Think the Egg Bowl for bowl eligibility in Freeze’s debut season, or the 7-2 record in the last nine games following a loss.
What is safe to assume, however, is if Ole Miss doesn’t rebound this weekend, the ugliness of the last two weeks is only going to get that much worse. In this hypothetical, attention would turn almost exclusively to the offseason — to rumors of potential staff changes, salvaging an underwhelming recruiting class and the seemingly never-ending NCAA investigation. Basically, Ole Miss needs a win in the worst way.
My head tells me Auburn wins, but I can’t help but think Ole Miss finds away. Because things are never as good as they seem or as bad as they seem. And the mood in and around Ole Miss hasn’t been this doom and gloom in some time, which makes Saturday as important a game as the Rebels have had in five years under Freeze.
SU: Ole Miss has a tough task against Auburn on Saturday. The Rebels must stop the number three ranked rushing offense in the country and face one of the toughest front sevens in the SEC.
Auburn has dominated opponents on the ground this season. The Tigers are averaging 302.9 yards a game on the ground and steamrolled Arkansas last Saturday behind 543 total rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns. Auburn running back Kamryn Pettway had 27 of 57 total carries for 192 yards and two touchdowns against the Razorbacks. The Tigers' backup has filled in nicely for fellow sophomore Kerryon Johnson who missed the last two games due to an ankle injury. Johnson is expected to be back against the Rebels to provide Auburn a powerful one-two punch. Defensively the Tigers are top five in the SEC in sacks and have only given up 10 touchdowns on the year.
Auburn's front seven is relentlessly aggressive and has done a great job of limiting opponents on the ground and pressuring quarterbacks this season. Ole Miss has not shown the ability to stop the run this season or run the ball effectively on offense. This is why I think the Rebels are at a major disadvantage against the Tigers. Sure home field advantage will play a big part but Ole Miss' offense will have to rely solely on quarterback Chad Kelly who has recently had his own share of struggles on the field.
Through the first four games of the season, Kelly had 12 passing touchdowns and only three interceptions. He and the Ole Miss offense were seen as one of the most potent offensive attacks in the SEC. The last three games Kelly has three passing touchdowns and four total interceptions. The Rebels have been stagnant offensively in their last two losses against Arkansas and LSU and haven't looked like the same offense that opened the season in Orlando against Florida State. If Ole Miss wants to win this game the Rebels will have to find a way to score a lot of points to keep up with Auburn's ground game that will score easily on the Landshark defense. That means Evan Engram will have to play a key role in the receiving game and Chad Kelly will need ample time in the pocket to find his receivers. Kelly will also need to make an effort to move the Rebels with his feet.
Ole Miss can certainly win if its offense plays to its highest potential, but Auburn is the favorite in this matchup.