Paced by a high-octane scoring attack headed by former Arkansas offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, the Tigers were running away from opponents, including a 26-22 win over Tennessee on ESPN for their second conference win of the season.
Then disaster struck.
Due to a three-game losing streak, Auburn enters Saturday's Halloween meeting with Ole Miss on a slippery downslope. A once potent offense has been sputtering in October, averaging a mere 16 points per game.
But while the statistics bear out a team in dire straits, Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt isn't fooled. Considering Auburn still ranks seventh in the nation in rushing offense (230.4), 19th in total offense (430.9) and is tied for 26th in scoring offense (31.8), it's certainly understandable.
"We have to do a good job of being responsible," he said. "We know there will be tricks and a lot of different formations and motions. I just want us to continue to be assignment sound and good tacklers, like we've been all year. We'll do a lot of film study and a lot of repetition so they will readily recognize what Auburn is trying to do with each different look and can still play fast."
With Malzahn being a former member of Nutt's staff in Fayetteville, the second-year head coach is obviously familiar with the unconventional style his previous protege implements.
"He loves a fast tempo. He loves to go very quickly, get to the line of scrimmage, use motion, some different sets, usually with a three-receiver set, two backs in the backfield and in the shotgun," said Nutt. "There's a variety of motions, screens, draws, delays, tricks. Lot of different type of schemes that will try to keep you off balance. I'd say the biggest thing, the biggest character of his offense, is hurry, hurry, hurry."
And to score in bunches.
So far this season, Auburn has totaled 14 touchdown passes, including 12 from Chris Todd. Last year, the Tigers had just seven touchdown passes as a team the entire season.
Further, Auburn is averaging 430.9 yards per game, while scoring more points this season than all of 2008 combined.
"They run trick plays all over the place and some no huddle. They're just trying to get to the ball in a hurry and are always trying to get an edge on the opponent in any kind of way," junior defensive end Kentrell Lockett said. "We've also noticed they're a team who's drawn a lot of people offsides. We have to be mindful of that and be focused when it comes to lining up and watching the ball."
While most would look to a high scoring offense as pass-happy, Auburn offers a dominant ground game led by senior running back Ben Tate.
Tate ranks second in the SEC and 11th nationally in yards per game (115.4), and has notched five 100-yard rushing games this season – the most in a single season since 2005. With his 923 yards gained, Tate has easily surpassed his rushing total from last season, when he led the team with 664 yards.
For his career, Tate sits fifth in Auburn history with 2,882 career rushing yards and needs only 77 more to post the 18th 1,000-yard rushing season in school history.
"Tate's been their guy," said Nutt. "He's a guy we're very familiar with. He runs hard, runs very physical. They've got some big guys up front that are very physical and do a good job blocking."
Despite their stability at running back, however, Auburn has struggled mightily under center in recent weeks.
Though Todd has made significant improvement with 1,490 yards and 12 touchdowns on 114-of-204 passing on the year, the senior has thrown two interceptions over three losses with no touchdowns. However, Todd does rank 28th in the nation in yards per completion (13.07) and is 45th nationally in passing efficiency (133.71).
"They've got two (quarterbacks) they use a lot. One is a dropback guy who can make all the throws, and then they have the athlete in Kodi Burns who gives them more of a running dimension," defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix said. "Sometimes they are on the field at the same time, so sometimes you really won't know what you are going to get.
"You have to get your guys alert to all that and make sure they are executing their assignments regardless of the situation. Kodi came in here last year and threw for over 300 yards, so we know he can pass the ball well. That's yet another dimension you have to be alert about."
The definition of a run-first quarterback, Burns has accounted for 144 yards on the ground, compared to only 61 yards passing.
Burns has shown the capability to line up as a receiver as well, but has only notched two receptions for 10 yards this season.
"You pretty much know what you're going to get with both of them," said Lockett of the quarterback duo. "With Burns, nine out of 10 times it's going to be a run. With Todd, it's probably going to be a pass. He's going to scramble, but he's not the guy No. 18 is. Both have their ups and downs."
Though Auburn appears to be limping into its first home day game of the season, Ole Miss is aware of the dangers the Tigers present offensively.
A stingy Rebel defense which ranks third in the SEC in red zone defense will surely be tested on the plains, as the Tigers have scored touchdowns on 69.2 percent of their red zone trips for third in the conference.
"They're very explosive. They're up-tempo, fast-paced and you see all kinds of formations, motions and shifts," Nix said. "They're averaging 400-plus yards per game, which is second in the SEC. I think their offense is like a time bomb waiting to go off again. I just hope it's not Saturday."
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