(Head Coach Gene Chizik never shows emotion!)
War Eagle, everybody! It's the first happy football weekend for the Tigers, out of the last four! It's time now for the Acid Reign Report, on Auburn's miraculous 33-20 win over the University of Mississippi Rebels. Auburn faced a mismatch on paper in nearly every phase of this game coming in, but managed to emerge victorious by double digits! Both teams made plenty of mistakes, but Ole Miss made more. Auburn got a few fortuitous bounces, and took good advantage. Both teams had penalties, and for the first time in weeks, it was fairly even on both teams.
The Auburn defense was facing a tall order against the talented Rebel offense, and were gashed to the tune of 394 total yards. Dexter McCluster, who Auburn absolutely HAD to stop, finished with 207 total yards. McCluster paid for it in blood, though. Auburn defenders lowered the boom when they could, pounding the diminutive Rebel speedster. McCluster had to leave briefly in the second half, but came back valiantly late. Auburn made a serious effort with stunts and a few blitzes, and delivered enough hits to shake Rebel quarterback Jevan Snead off his game. Some of it was schemed but mostly, the Auburn defensive line and linebackers rose up, and beat on a young Ole Miss offensive line. Snead was limited to 16 completions on 35 attempts, with two picks by Walter McFadden, 175 yards, and one touchdown. That's a 2.1 net yards per pass average. Coverage by the secondary improved enormously, but the guys dropped nearly a half dozen possible interceptions. On the most difficult interception attempt, Walter McFadden made the play. On a ball that nearly hit the turf, and bounced off the straining hands of the Rebel receiver, McFadden snagged the carom one-handed, heels just over the boundary, and sprinted to a pick-six-touchdown! (How's that for a comma-splice?) Auburn gave up yards in chunks, including a 79 yard McCluster run. In the end, Auburn was able to turn the Rebels back every time in the 4th quarter, holding Ole Miss scoreless to preserve the victory.
Special teams continued to run hot and cold. Clinton Durst hit great punt after great punt, till a shaky 33 yarder late. Chris Todd nailed the pooch punt of the year, coffin-cornering it out of bounds at the Rebel 1 yard line. Phillip Pierre-Louis didn't fumble a punt, but he let one go that was downed at the one, and danced like a man possessed on two others, netting only one yard with plenty of room. I fully expect that he will treat us to a Michael Jackson moonwalk, against Furman. Seriously, PPL, break it forward, please? Kick returns were decent, but kickoff net CONTINUES to be horrible. With the first return given up for a touchdown on the season, the kickoff team managed only a 33.8 yard net, even with Morgan Hull averaging kicking it to the 8 yard line. Wes Byrum continued his excellent ways, hitting on 4 extra points and a field goal. Byrum outkicked Ole Miss kicker Joshua Shene, who came into the game perfect on the year. Shene pushed a 44 yard field goal wide, and kicked an extra point into the line, which Auburn's Demond Washington scooped up and raced in for two points.
Auburn needed to stretch the field on offense. Everyone in the stadium held their breath on repeated tosses downfield, often into double coverage. Todd let it go downfield a bunch, and ended up with a great net yards per pass average, 9.6. Darvin Adams got open and made 4 clutch catches, and Terrell Zachary made a couple of GREAT ones! Tommy Trott had a terrible drop, and a magnificent TD on a ball slung up for the corner by Kodi Burns, off his back foot, being pressured. The Rebels were looking for Mario Fannin and Terrell Zachary on the reverse, but were hurt twice by freshman Travante Stallworth on that play. Ben Tate continued his outstanding play running the ball, powering for 148 rushing yards and a 53-yard back-breaking touchdown. The Tiger offense out-gained Ole Miss, 400 yards to 394. The Ole Miss defense's previous high given up for the season was 354, against Alabama.
Unit Grades, after the jump!
Defensive Line: B+. It was hardly a perfect game up front, especially given that the team gave up 394 yards. Still, there was some good pressure at times on Ole Miss, and eight tackles for loss. Auburn has been able to rotate six or seven up front all year, and it's going to help us going into Amen Corner.
Linebackers: B-. It was feast or famine in the linebacker corps. Sometimes we filled holes and blasted the runner, and sometimes we got pinned inside and burned. The swing pass to backs was KILLING the linebackers early, but adjustments were made well. A number of McCluster runs bounced off linebackers and gained a ton more yardage. Eltoro Freeman was again a force up front. He's very young , and when he gets out of position, it's ugly. It's the second week in a row that the young star has given up a 60+ yard TD run. Still, Freeman led the team in tackles, and was an inspiration. When he actually knows the defense well, he'll be really scary! The stat guys totally missed it, but Adam Herring got a few snaps, and made a huge tip on a pass when Ole Miss was in the red zone.
Secondary: B. This was a night and day improvement by this unit. Coverage was too soft early on, but as Snead started feeling pressure, the corners were able to crash the outs and hitches aggressively. When Zach Etheridge went out early, I was REALLY worried about the safeties. We lost a bit in tackling ability without Zach, but I think Mike Slade brought more speed to the equation. Ole Miss wasn't able to get it done downfield, even with that situation. T'Sharvan Bell and Demond Washington acquitted themselves well, and Neiko Thorpe made some plays. If this group continues to improve, they'll do well against Georgia and Bama.
Punting: B+. Durst hit some monster shots, but might have out-kicked his coverage some. The last kick, when we need to play for field position, was pretty poor. Durst averaged 42 yards on his six punts, but Marshay Green returned 3 of them, for 43 yards. The 29 yard Green return in the third quarter (the longest given up on the season) could have been costly, but Ole Miss fumbled it back on the Auburn 24. A net of 34.7 is a bit down, for us. I can't say enough about Chris Todd's pooch punt that went out of bounds at the one. That was a thing of beauty!
Punt Returns: D. No turnovers is an improvement. The dance moves, with room and blocking, were not. Phillip Pierre-Louis is a rookie at this gig, and I'm not suggesting we replace him. He just needs more coaching. When he learns to step fearlessly into the catch, and heads a few straight up field at a 45 degree angle or less, it will scare coverage teams to death. He's got some great (dreaded buzzword!) potential!
Kick Returns: B. This was a surprisingly solid effort. Ole Miss popped 'em up to about the 12 yard line, and Auburn returners Demond Washington and Phillip Pierre-Louis made 'em pay on field position, averaging 27 yards per return. That set us up on 3 returns outside the 35 yard line. That's pretty sweet, if we can keep that up!
Kickoffs: D-. Well, we tried kicking them deep this week, but Morgan Hull was not consistent. He managed two into the end zone, but 4 others were short. Auburn had a TREMENDOUS hit on the first return, causing a fumble that Auburn could not corral. Despite the negative on that play, Ole Miss averaged 30 yards per return, with one broken for a touchdown to pull Ole Miss within 11. Auburn did improve from a 26.0 yard net a week ago, to 33.8. I'll give a pass, this week.
Placekicking A+. Maybe I should count off on the 36-yard Byrum field goal that SHAVED juuuuusst inside the upright, but it counts 3 points, just the same. Byrum was perfect again. Foot Lauderdale has hit all 34 of his extra points, and is 13 of 14 on field goals. The only miss was from outside 40 yards. Magnificent, Sir Byrum, absolutely magnificent!
Offensive Line: B- This was a so-so performance, at best,but a winner nonetheless! Ole Miss has a great line, and depth. Auburn helped out on the scheme, giving the line help with several max-protect packages on the deep balls. Our tackles had maybe the worst day of the year trying to handle Greg Hardy and Kentrell Lockett off the edge. In this game, on 3rd and +7, it was probably better to just run a draw. It would have saved Chris Todd some hits! Still, the Ole Miss ends had only 8 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and 2 sacks. We lost the guard/center gap a couple of times, letting Jerrell Powe roar inside for tackles in the backfield. On a D-line that had Jerrell Powe, Lawson Scott, Kentrell Lockett, and Greg Hardy, Ole Miss only produced 9 tackles. No holding penalties for the line, and only one false start on Mike Berry. And of course, one delay of game on an early snap, courtesy of indecision by Roger's Redding's Buffoons.
Receivers: B. After the catch drought the past three weeks, one HAS to love 7 catches for 117 yards and 2 touchdowns from the starters. Travante Stallworth ran two key reverses for first downs, and Kodi Burns was actually used as a receiver on a nice motion in, reverse out catch for 8 tough yards. There were some bruising blocks downfield, too. Some of the best plays downfield weren't catches, but rather swat-downs by Terrell Zachary on deep balls he wasn't going to be able to catch. Todd chunked it deep for Zachary multiple times, and Zachary did a good job of protecting his QB on those. Tommy Trott had a BAD drop on one pass, but made up for it with a NICE over the shoulder catch on a Burns loft in the end zone.
Running Backs: B. There was some hit and miss on blitz pickup, but enough success to allow Todd to set up to go deep multiple times. There was some good screen offense early, from Mario Fannin and Eric Smith. Ben Tate does some awesome running in traffic. His 148 yards on the day gave him 1067 yards in nine games. He's on pace to finish the regular season with 1422 yards, which would be the third best rushing season in Auburn history, behind only Bo Jackson and Rudi Johnson. Ben's rapidly approaching some rarefied air, around these parts!
Quarterback: C+. Super improvement from the past couple of weeks, but there was some shaky play as well. First off, the Wildcat was pretty much totally useless, except for Kodi's beautiful heave for a TD. Neither Burns throw was proper form AT ALL, but the one we needed got there for six. Rushing out of the Wildcat was snuffed, as nine or ten Ole Miss defenders attacked the line when they recognized Burns in the shotgun. Todd made some big throws, but it was scary. There were two deep throws where Terrell Zachary really made him look good, and a coverage bust that allowed Darvin Adams free for a TD. Todd made an absolutely awful decision late, giving up a 20 yard sack-fumble when we were trying to run the clock down. Luckily, two negative plays, a hold and a sack forced Ole Miss to punt for a touchback. Is Todd's arm OK? At times, he overthrows, at times he bounces it. Against a scary front and linebacking corps, Todd did OK, except for the fumble.
Auburn came up with a great win today! I didn't hold out much hope after the LSU effort, but these Tigers don't quit! We needed to go downfield on offense, play hard against Dexter McCluster, and rattle Jevan Snead. Auburn accomplished all three things, and came up with a win a little bigger than I predicted back in July. No, Ole Miss fans, we didn't score 34 like I thought we would, but we'll take 33!
The win over Ole Miss makes Auburn bowl-eligible at 6-3, and gives the team a great lift going into Homecoming against Furman. If Auburn can continue the improving play in Athens, an 8 win season is still within reach, and if we win that one, we'll host Alabama with a rising swell of confidence! Black Friday might be the end of the Tide's unbeaten run, if we continue to play well and the breaks fall like they did today!
War Eagle, everybody! WAR EAGLE! Ain't it grand? Nothing like winning!