The Vitals: Ole Miss and Auburn meet at 11:30 a.m. Saturday in a regionally televised game with bowl implications. The Rebels (4-4, 2-3) are looking for their first postseason appearance since 2003, while the Tigers have lost three straight games and also sport four overall defeats. With Alabama and Georgia remaining on Auburn's schedule, the Tigers are in severe danger of failing to finish at .500.
The match-up is an exercise of coaches going in opposite directions. Houston Nutt has already eclipsed last season's win total for Ole Miss and defeated his old team last week in Fayetteville. Tommy Tuberville has suffered through a public relations nightmare of a year and is sitting on a seat that is becoming hotter by the minute.
This meeting will be the 33rd all-time between the Rebels and Tigers dating back to 1928, and Auburn holds a 24-8 advantage in the series. Last season, Auburn prevailed 17-3 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The Tigers have not lost in Oxford since 1992 and own an 8-1 advantage over the Rebels in games played there, including a 23-17 victory two years ago. Overall, Auburn has won 13 of the last 15 meetings dating back to 1993 and 22 of 25 dating back to Auburn's 35-28 win in the 1971 Gator Bowl.
TV: Raycom Sports (Dave Neal, play-by-play; Dave Archer, color analyst; Dave Baker, sideline reporter; Available on ESPN Gameplan and ESPN360.com. The CSS replay of the game will be Sunday at 1 p.m.
RADIO: Ole Miss Radio Network (David Kellum, play-by-play; Pete Cordelli, color analyst; Stan Sandroni, sideline reporter). Satellite radio: Sirius 211 XM 199.
WEB: OleMissSports.com will provide live audio through RebelVision, live stats and an in-game blog. The official Rebel athletics website will also provide a full game recap, a photo gallery and live postgame video.
Ole Miss Notes
Head Coach Tommy Tuberville
"Good start to practice this week. We had a little bit of a longer week to get prepared. We've still got some guys who are a little bit beat up still, but most everybody practiced today. We did have a long practice on Sunday. Yesterday we had the day off. Today, we had practice. It was a little cool with some football weather. Our guys got another gear to them when it cooled off and it's good to see that. We've got a lot of work to do and we know that. We've had some improvement on both sides of the ball. It seems like we can't get both groups going together at the same time and we've still got some problems with our kicking game. It's an understatement that we've got to improve.
"We're getting ready to play Ole Miss. Ole Miss is a team that won four games, but they've played very close in all the games that they've played. They have a new quarterback that's really playing well, a running back, and two of the better receivers that we'll see. They have a defense that plays with a lot of aggressiveness, and you can tell that a new coaching staff has come in and re-energized this team. They were left with a lot of good players, though. This is basically the same team that we've played the last couple of years. Ed Orgeron brought some young players in and started playing them a lot and they're much improved. Houston (Nutt) has done a good job. He's come in and has taken control and got them playing with a lot of confidence in the last few weeks. Again, they've had some close games, some close losses, and some close wins, but you can tell that they are a much improved team. So, we've got our hands full."
Is there any update on the place-kicking situation?
"No. It's still going good. I think that everybody but Clinton Durst made their field goals today in a pretty heavy crosswind. I'm just looking for consistency and I probably will not make a decision on that until game time."
Practicing the first team against the first team - is that something that you've just started doing?
"No. I've done it forever. We've always done it, we just didn't do it the first part of the year because the new offense didn't match up with what we needed to see in practice in terms of fundamentals, and so we didn't go against each other too much. For the rest of the year, we'll do at least forty to fifty minutes a day with ones on ones and twos on twos and try to get better and get some aggressiveness back. The one thing that we're looking for is being able to play four quarters. The first half has normally been pretty good. I think, just by going back and looking, that we get a little bit tired in the second half. It could be because we haven't done a lot of full speed work in practice. And so we've gone back to doing that. We're adding conditioning and adding a lot of other things to try to be able to put four quarters together."
Is it a negative factor that many offensive linemen have lost weight from last season to this season?
"No. Some of the guys needed to lose some weight, but I don't think that's a problem. Every year during the season, especially during two-a-days, you have guys who lose weight. You have them lose it during the offseason. We push these guys very hard during the offseason in terms of running, lifting, and we try to get as much of their body fat changed, especially the offensive and defensive linemen. We have looked good with our offensive and defensive linemen and I think that this is probably the best that we've looked in terms of how they dress and move around, but again, it's consistency and conditioning. Again, we talk about that one thing that we'd like to do it play more guys to help in that conditioning. When you've had a few guys beat up and you have to play longer than normal, usually you are going to run out of juice. But we'll have to work through that."
Talk about moving Jason Bosley back to center.
"Jason is healthy now. We were having trouble with his snaps back earlier in the year. We felt like going back to a little bit more two back than one back under center. He had a little bit more experience in that. I thought he played well last week. He was much more consistent in that position. Ryan (Pugh) can play either one and he'll be our backup in that position. But I thought it was a good move at the time."
Talk about the difference between Clinton Durst and Wes Byrum.
"Wes is more of a muscle guy who muscles the ball through the uprights. His technique comes and goes. He doesn't rely on that very much and he never has. He's a big guy who's very strong. Most kickers, basically, just depend on technique to get the ball, height and distance. Wes is a strong young man who has been able to do that all of his life. He's trying to get a little bit more technique sound, which he needs to. But consistency has been his problem. It was last year and obviously this year. Clinton and (Morgan) Hull are more technique oriented and they have to be to get the distance on the ball and get the ball up. That's a big key for an extra point kicker."
How would you characterize the confidence and leadership of this team right now?
"When you've lost three in a row, your confidence can't be great. I always judge it by how we practice. They were excited about playing last Thursday as they were about playing in the weeks before. I've sat down with the seniors and with a lot of the guys talking about the second half and trying to get feedback on what they think our problems are. Bottom line is that we haven't executed well and it's no difference in terms of guys being ready to play. It hasn't changed too much in terms of what we're doing except for a few things that we've done on offense. I think in the long run, it has to do with the depth. We are not nearly as deep as we were earlier in the year."
Are you concerned at all about being two games away from being bowl-eligible?
"No. You can't worry about all of that, you just keep worrying about getting better. We're a better team now than we were three weeks ago. I think our offense is much improved and they have a lot of room for improvement and we'll get better with each practice. I told the team on Sunday and I'll tell them every day, `We want to get better every day in practice.' That's the only thing that we can handle. Don't worry about wins and losses or who we play, whether it's on television or whether you're bowl-eligible. None of that stuff is going to make a difference. We've never worried about it before, but we've just got to take things in stride and worry about what we can control. We know the situation that we're in and we want to play better this week and see if that makes a difference."
What needs to change in order for this offense to be able to take the ball down the field?
"It's probably a little bit of both of what we're trying to do. We don't have a broad range of offense in right now for Kodi (Burns). We want him to be able to handle what we have. We'll throw it down the field and we had a lot of plays planned to throw it down the field, but a lot of it is determined by how they're playing. Your routes are abbreviated in terms of whether they play inside or outside or how deep they are, how close they are to you or whether it's man or zone. All of those things factor into it. We have enough in to where we can get the ball down the field consistently, but then you have to execute that. It goes back to Kodi being able to make those reads. But we work on that every day and this offense will get better every week in terms of being able to do different things and have different attacks."
Can you remember a time when backs had two straight good games against the defense?
"No. That was disappointing. You could pretty much see at the beginning of the game they came out and they threw I think nine out of the first eleven plays. Of course when we intercepted a couple of those it kind of changed the tempo. With their speed and quickness, we obviously didn't match up with them very well. They got the corner on us a couple times. Then we had one missed tackle the first half and eleven the second half. That is the bottom line. When you do get there, you got to make the play. We just weren't very consistent. You have got to give them credit, too, for what they did. They changed a few things up and gave us some problems. We weren't confused. It's just when we got lined up and were playing the play the execution wasn't there quite as many times as it needed to be. You're not going to stop a team like that every down. They are going to make some plays. When they got to running consistently, it was kind of downhill for us."
Does fatigue make the team look like they have quit?
"No. We haven't quit yet. We never have quit. I don't know how you determine that. Our guys have a lot of pride. They practice like everybody else. One thing that we are going to do is play hard, and we're going to play for four quarters. Now we might not play very well and again fatigue is a factor in that. People start talking about quitting and they start looking for excuses and we have no excuse."
How about Kodi (Burns) getting a whole game in?
"Yeah. Remember that is Kodi's first time that he has ever played an entire game. He has played like a lot of other first-year players, and he has made some mistakes. I thought at times he looked pretty good. He took advantage of some opportunities and rushed for 80 yards. We didn't really do anything fancy in the passing game, but he made some throws. We tried to put him in situations where we had two or three receivers on one side of the field so he could get rid of the ball a little quicker. He has made some improvement. He is going to be a good quarterback. We have got to give him some help. Again that starts with the kicking game when we get the ball down there to score some points and goes back to defense. We have been able to get the ball back a little bit more than we did Thursday. I know everybody looks at quarterbacks, but I have been impressed with Kodi and how he's handled it, and he comes to practice every day. He comes to get better. Sunday was probably his best practice that we've had. He didn't have quite as good a day today because of the wind and the temperature of holding the ball and throwing it. It was good that we started to get some cooler weather. He's shown a lot of improvement."
Is Coach Ensminger calling the majority of the plays or what is your role in that area?
"Yeah I've called a few plays - all the ones that have worked [laughs]. They do a good job. They are game planning. They spend hours at it, and again the one thing that is a little different is that you have to game plan for your strengths. Right now it's not just a broad range of offense. We feel like we can do this against the team we are playing, but can the quarterbacks or running backs or the offensive line handle it? I thought they did a good job. We came out, and we controlled the ball quite a bit the first half. The second half we didn't change a lot. We went to a little more shotgun to spread them out because once we had that 20-play drive running the football, we had a lot more guys up on the line of scrimmage on defense than you would want or that you could block. We had to make some adjustments and that is what's going to happen in this offense. We've got to be able to adjust as we go along because they are going to take away your strengths. I think they have done a good job. Obviously I wish we would have done a little bit better in the second half and scored a few points. It would have made it interesting. The reverse after the onside kick they just made a good call. They had done something that they hadn't done and rolled their secondary to the boundary. We ran the reverse back into the boundary, and they had a guy there that we couldn't block. I thought it was a good call. We were trying to make plays, and we kind of had them on their heels early. We were trying to keep that, but I think the offense is doing a good job considering that we have been doing this now for about three weeks. They are getting better every day."
Do you see this game against Ole Miss as a must win for your team?
"No. I don't see them as must wins, but we must get better. That is how we are looking at it. We want to get better. Obviously a lot of guys that haven't played are getting more playing experience, but we just want to go out there and get better and give ourselves a chance to win. I thought we gave ourselves a chance the first half last week. The second half we didn't and we need to be able to do that for four quarters this coming week."
Can you think of another time in your career where you basically started from scratch in the middle of the season?
"Yeah my first year here. I think Ben Leard had gotten hurt the third or fourth game of the season. About this time of the year he came back, and we were trying to adjust the offense around him. I think it was Arkansas and we go play them. He gets knocked out the first series and we kind of had to revert back. It kind of runs in cycles. This is a year where we have got a chance to have a good football team, but we just haven't been able to put it together for four quarters on offense or defense or special teams. Again guys are working hard. We just haven't got it done yet."
Is there ever a point where you start preparing for next year?
"You prepare for next year whether you are winning or losing because you've got young guys that you want to make sure are learning fundamentals during the week at practice. There is always a building process. It makes no difference. When we were 13-0, we had a lot of young guys that would practice and practice. We would try and make them better looking for the next year or the year after that. There is really never a rebuilding year. It's just this year we have so many young guys that are having to play. It's a little tougher task. We would like to cut back on some mistakes but that's part of it."
Can you talk a little about Enrique Davis playing running back at Ole Miss?
"He hasn't played that much lately, but Enrique is a good football player we recruited out of Panama City. They've got some good running backs, and he'll have to wait his time there. I'm sure he will have an opportunity to play this week. They try to work him in and out but other than that I haven't seen a lot of him."
PC courtesy of the official Auburn web site and other information supplied by OleMissSports.com
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