Ole Miss falls to No. 7 Auburn

Twenty games into his tenure at Ole Miss, second-year head coach Ed Orgeron was looking for that signature win as the Rebels' head man. With Saturday's 23-17 loss to No. 7 Auburn, he almost got it.

On a brisk, sunny afternoon at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, Ole Miss and Auburn battled all day before the Rebels finally succumbed to the Tigers 23-17 in front of announced crowd of 55,211. Neither team led by more than seven points throughout the contest.

"I thought our team battled very hard today," Orgeron said. "This is the team I've been seeing everyday at practice. We have guys that will put up a fight on every down, and that is the kind of things I like to see from them."

Tiger head coach Tommy Tuberville said, "They (UM) were fired up to play, and we were here to try to make ourselves better. Thankfully at the end we had enough points to win."

Auburn quarterback Brandon Cox threw for a season-high 255 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Tiger running back Kenny Irons added 106 yards on the ground, including 43 on Auburn's last drive that drained five-and-a-half of the final six minutes off the clock.

Ole Miss' junior quarterback Brent Schaeffer threw for 162 yards on 8 of 16 passing with a touchdown and two interceptions. Rebel tailback BenJarvus Green-Ellis led his team in rushing with 44 yards on 13 carries.

The Rebels took the opening kickoff and went 81 yards in just under three minutes to take a surprising 7-0 lead. On the drive, Schaeffer connected with Robert Lane for a 37-yard pass to the Auburn 41-yard line, and four plays later, sophomore running back Mico McSwain beat Auburn linebacker Will Herring and Tiger strong safety Eric Brock to the edge for a 27-yard touchdown run on a reverse. True freshman placekicker Joshua Shene added the PAT for a 7-0 lead.

However, the Tigers were quick to answer. Junior quarterback Brandon Cox engineered a 15-play, 69-yard drive that took up the better part of the first quarter. The possession blended seven passing plays with eight rushing ones and was capped by Cox's 13-yard touchdown pass to Rod Smith. John Vaughan connected on the extra point to tie the score 7-7 with 4:31 remaining in the first quarter.

Ole Miss drove to the Auburn 41-yard line on its next possession, but a Brent Schaeffer sack on third-down-and-nine ended any hopes of a Rebel score.

After punter Rob Park used a new punting technique to pin the Tigers at their own six-yard line, Auburn mounted an 11-play, 69-yard drive that went all the way to the Rebel 16-yard line. But a holding call pushed the Tigers back to the 26-yard line, and two plays later, Cox threw an interception – his first in 113 throwing attempts – to Charles Clark to give the ball to the Rebels at their own 14-yard line.

As was the theme throughout the first half, the Rebels moved the ball effectively in their own territory, going 10 plays and 45 yards on their next possession, but the drive stalled at the Auburn 41-yard line. Park, again using a new side-kick technique, pinned the Tigers inside their own one-yard line.

But Auburn went 65 yards in the waning moments of the first half and threatened to take the lead going into halftime. But a fumble by Brad Lester at the Ole Miss 34-yard line ended that drive, and the two teams went into the half knotted 7-7.

The Rebel defense held the Tigers on Auburn's opening possession of the second half and mounted a quick drive to retake the lead. Schaeffer connected with Lane for the second time in the game – this time for 41 yards – and advanced the ball all the way to the Tigers' 9-yard line. But the Rebels couldn't get any closer after Bruce Hall rushed for a three-yard loss and Schaeffer threw two straight incompletions. Shene connected on a 29-yard field goal to give the Rebels a 10-7 lead with 10:26 left in the third quarter.

The Ole Miss defense held the Tigers on their next possession, but Auburn took advantage of an Ole Miss miscue – an interception from Schaeffer – to take their first lead of the game. On first-and-ten from the Ole Miss 29-yard line, Eric Brock made a diving interception of Schaeffer, and the Tigers took over at the Rebel 41-yard line. Four plays later, Brad Lester rumbled into the endzone from six yards out to give the Tigers a 14-10 lead.

Ole Miss faced a third-and-ten on its next possession, but Schaeffer's pass to a wide-open Shay Hodge was a little high. Hodge, in an attempt to corral the throw, had the ball go through his hands, and Tiger safety Aairon Savage snatched the careening pass before it hit the ground for an interception.

The Tigers drove the ball to the Ole Miss 14-yard line before the Rebel defense stiffened, and Brandon Cox's pass to Gabe McKenzie on third-and-five was incomplete. Vaughan connected on a 38-yard field goal to give the Tigers a 17-10 lead with less than a minute left in the first half.

Ole Miss, however, was ready to respond. Schaeffer and running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis rallied the Rebels and took them on a nine-play, 65-yard drive capped by a three-yard touchdown pass to tight end Lawrence Lilly to tie the score 17-17 with 12:46 left in the fourth quarter.

But Auburn's offense proved too much. The Tigers went on two long scoring drives, capped by two Vaughan field goals of 20 and 29 yards, to give the Tigers a 23-17 lead. Auburn's last drive was especially crippling to the Rebels, as it drained five-and-a-half of the final six minutes off the clock. The Rebels had 30 seconds to tie the game with a touchdown and win it with a PAT, but defensive end Quentin Grove's sack of Schaeffer ended the game.

Ole Miss had 15 total first downs to Auburn's 25. Total yards: Ole Miss 256, Auburn 428.

The Rebels, now 2-7 overall and 1-5 in the SEC, now host Northwestern State next week in the first meeting between the two teams. With the win, Auburn improves to 8-1 (5-1) and hosts Arkansas State next week.

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