Rebels will not enjoy their trip to Auburn!
War Eagle, everybody! It's time now for a look at another of Auburn's 2011 opponents. On October 29th, the Tigers return home from Baton Rouge to host the Ole Miss Rebels. It's the fifth tough October Saturday in a row for the tigers. Some say that a tired Auburn squad has a good chance to be upset at home by the Rebels. I'd remind folks that the situation was similar in 2009. Auburn had lost three in a row, the latest being a 31-10 pasting in Baton Rouge. Ole Miss came in ranked, and Auburn turned their season around with a 33-20 win over the Rebels.
Auburn does have a tough schedule in 2011. Prior to the Rebels, Auburn will have played Utah State, Mississippi State, at Clemson, Florida Atlantic, at South Carolina, at Arkansas, Florida, and at LSU. The Rebels will be the 9th opponent in a row with no break. Ole Miss has fairly meaty schedule as well, although the Rebels do arguably have an easier November than the Tigers do. Ole Miss will have played Brigham Young, Southern Illinois, at Vanderbilt, Georgia, at Fresno State, Alabama, and Arkansas prior to the trip to Auburn. Yikes! There's only one pretty sure win in that slate, Southern Illinois. Brigham Young was decent in 2010, and that Fresno trip will be a jet-lag proposition with a long road trip. Follow the Fresno California trip up with Bama and Arky, and I think the Rebels will just as beat up as the Tigers by October 29.
It's another year, and another set of offensive coaches for Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt. Nutt has had difficulty over his long SEC career meshing with and retaining offensive coordinators. This season, Nutt brings back David Lee, who ran the Arkansas offense in 2007. Strangely, Nutt also brought in Gunter Brewer as the "passing game coordinator." Brewer, the son of former Ole Miss head coach Billy Brewer, has previously had various roles with the wide-open Oklahoma State offense. Will he be able to mesh his knowledge with Nutt's run-heavy schemes? The situation seems to be to be one where three distinctly different philosophies will collide.
The Rebels look to rebuild an offense that managed a surprising 30.6 points per game. Once again, quarterback is a question mark for the Rebels. Front runners coming out of spring are sophomore West Virginia transfer Barry Brunetti and junior college transfer Randall Mackey. Both are mobile quarterbacks, and given David Lee's history, we can expect to see a lot of Wildcat offense from the Rebs in 2011. The Rebs should have a solid line to run behind, led by senior left tackle Bradley Sowell. Running back is a position of strength as well, with dependable senior Brandon Bolden and lightning quick sophomore Jeff Scott returning. The receiver corps is more of a question, as the Rebels must replace big-play threat Markeith Summers. Will there be enough of a Rebel passing game to keep opponents from loading the box on defense? Time will tell.
For those who've thought Auburn's Ted Roof defenses have been suspect the past two years, I give you Rebel defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix. Roof's last two defenses gave up 27.5 and 24.1 points per game. Ole Miss gave up a whopping 35.2 last season. This year, the Rebels will look to improve, but it will be difficult with a front seven gutted by graduation and suspensions. Ted Laurent and Jerald Powe are gone from the tackle spots. The Rebs' top three linebackers are gone, also. The Rebs do return both starting corners from a year ago, but must replace both safeties on an already suspect secondary. Coach Nutt signed a juco-heavy class this year, and is hoping to plug most of these holes with transfers. That's a shaky proposition. Just ask Terry Bowden and Jackie Sherrill, both of whom flamed out with that approach.
While the Rebels have issues to solve on offense and defense, they may have the best kicking tandem in the SEC. Juniors Tyler Campbell and Bryson Rose to punt and kick, respectively. Rose was quietly one of the most accurate kickers in the league in 2010. Campbell boomed punts for a tremendous 46.4 yard average, with 19 punts of 50 or more yards. Junior kickoff specialist Andrew Ritter was solid as well. The Rebels lose return man Jesse Grandy, but sophomore Jeff Scott should be able to give the Rebels a spark both on punt and kick returns. The Rebels had coverage issues in 2011, and with lots of new faces on the depth chart, it's likely that the woes will continue.
Unit Matchups after the jump!
Auburn defensive line vs. Ole Miss offensive line: Auburn had apparent problems in the A-Day game at defensive tackle but by the time of this game, true sophomores Jeffery Whitacker and Kenneth Carter will have had most of a season to gain experience. The Auburn defense is most dangerous at defensive end, led by Nosa Eguae, Dee Ford and Corey Lemonier. The O-line is the strength of the Rebel offense. From left to right, the Rebels will likely start seniors Bradley Sowell, Alex Washington, junior center A. J. Hawkins, and juniors Matt Hall and Bobby Massie. Hawkins is the lighest member of this massive line, at 313 pounds. The starting five average nearly 330 pounds! Can Auburn get a push on this group in the middle? Can the mammoth tackles handle Auburn's speed on the edge? Expect mismatches in both areas. Ole Miss had protection problems in their "Grove Bowl" spring game. Advantage: Even.
Auburn linebackers vs. Ole Miss backs: Auburn returning linebackers Darren Bates, Eltoro Freeman and Jonathan Evans have experience shutting down big-time SEC backs. They, along with new starting middle linebacker Jake Holland will need it against Ole Miss. Last season, Nutt's offense wasted a good effort by Branden Bolden and Jeff Scott against Auburn. Bolden averaged 5.3 yards per carry, but was only handed the ball six times. Scott opened the game with an 83 yard scoring scamper, and finished with 134 yards on nine carries. Nutt relied mostly on quarterback Jeremiah Masoli pounding the middle for a paltry 2.1 yard average. Advantage: Even.
Auburn corners vs. Ole Miss receivers: Auburn projected starters T'Sharvan Bell and Chris Davis got extensive experience in the two games last season, and Jonathan Mincy and Jonathan Rose looked solid in spring drills. Ole Miss has some experience returning here, but it's a unit that was plagued by dropped passes last season. Projected starters are junior Melvin Harris and sophomore Ja-Mes Logan. Harris is one of those tall targets that have given Auburn fits the past two seasons, and he caught five balls against the Tigers in 2010. Slight Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn safeties vs. Ole Miss secondary receivers and quarterback: Auburn will field a new/old tandem this fall at safety: converted corner Neiko Thorpe and sophomore Demetruce McNeal. Thorpe has played a lot of football in the past three years, and by all accounts is making a very successful transition to safety, where he's more suited. McNeal is fast and is a ferocious hitter, but only has spot duty last season on his resume. The Rebels have a number of options for secondary receivers, but they must become more willing to spread the ball around. In 2010, only running back Brandon Bolden had a significant impact as a secondary receiver with 32 catches. Tight end Ferbia Allen only had 5 catches last season. The Rebels do get some mileage out of their slot receivers, and the starter there will be sophomore Korvic Neat, who had nine catches in 2010. The big question here for the Rebels is the quarterback position. We got our first look in the Grove Bowl. Both guys showed an ability to escape the rush and make throws downfield. There were also some interceptions, fumbled snaps, and times when both guys took unnecessary sacks. Will Ole Miss be able to develop one solid guy by game nine? Or will it be a tag-team philosophy based on who is the least banged up? I think the Tiger situation is a lot more settled than the Rebel one. Advantage: Auburn.
Punting: Auburn will field sophomore Steven Clark, who had a several shaky starts last fall. If the A-Day game is any indication, Clark will boast a much stronger leg this fall. Ole Miss junior Tyler Campbell was simply the best punter in the NCAA last fall. Auburn's still unsettled as to who will return punts, and had fumble problems back there the past two seasons. Ole Miss will return punts with sophomore Jeff Scott, who should be dangerous. Auburn gave up 4.5 yards per return in 2010, and Ole Miss gave up 13.1. Ole Miss has a problem on coverage, but it's not likely to matter in this matchup, if Auburn can't field it. Advantage: Ole Miss.
Kickoffs: Auburn sophomore Cody Parkey was used about a third of the time last season, and he averaged 63.2 yards per kickoff. Auburn was second in the SEC last season in kick coverage, helped by a nasty coverage team. Ole Miss junior Andrew Ritter averaged 63.9 yards per kickoff in 2010. Auburn's Onterio McCalebb figures to be the primary kick returner. McCalebb averaged 28.4 yards per return in 2010. Ole Miss will use sophomore Jeff Scott on returns. Scott averaged 27.7 yards per return. Auburn coverage gave up 19.7 yards per return, Ole Miss gave up 23.4. Advantage: Auburn.
Place kicking: Sophomore Cody Parkey takes over as the Auburn kicker. His only college experience is a couple of extra points kicked late in the Homecoming game. Parkey is said to have had a good spring. Parkey's backup Chandler Brooks hit three field goals longer than 40 yards in Auburn's A-Day Game. Ole Miss junior Bryson Rose hit 16 of 18 field goals in 2010, and definitely has the experience edge. Advantage: Ole Miss.
Auburn offensive line vs. Ole Miss defensive line: Auburn came out of spring with sophomore Blake Burgess starting at center, with senior Jared Cooper and junior John Sullen at the guard slots. Only Sullen has significant front-line playing time inside. Tackles will be seniors Brandon Mosley and A. J. Greene. The Rebs have a few bodies to place in the middle at defensive tackle, but not much experience. A pair of redshirt freshmen may start, Byron Bennett and Carlton Martin. I'd expect 336 pound junior Gilbert Pena to see a lot of playing time, too. The Rebs have a better situation at defensive end, with senior Kentrell Lockett having been given a 6th year of eligibility. Senior Wayne Dorsey is solid on the other side, junior Gerald Rivers is a speed-rushing threat. Auburn's starting unit looked surprisingly solid in the spring game, and both Greene and Moseley appeared to have the technique to handle the SEC's better ends. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn backs vs. Ole Miss linebackers: The Auburn Tigers return the one-two punch of freshman All-American Michael Dyer and Onterrio McCalebb at running back, and just this week incoming freshman Tre Mason has qualified and is expected to help fill out the depth chart. Ole Miss puts together a patchwork linebacker corps this season of younger players and transfers. Penciled in as starters are sophomore Mike Marry, true freshman C. J. Johnson, and junior Joel Knight. Johnson is a 5-star signee who should be very good right out of the gate, but will be green. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn receivers vs. Ole Miss corners: Auburn will rely heavily on returning veteran Emory Blake, and intriguing prospects DeAngelo Benton and Quindarius Carr. Ole Miss returns a pair of starters here, senior Marcus Temple and sophomore Charles Sawyer. Junior Wesley Pendleton should be a factor as well. Ole Miss should improve here this season, but they were victimized last season. The Rebels gave up a whopping 8.4 yards per pass over the course of the season. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn secondary receivers and quarterback vs. Ole Miss safeties: Auburn's most notable returning secondary receiver is tight end/h-back Phillip Lutzenkirchen, who was a clutch go-to guy last year. About half of his catches resulted in touchdowns. The Tigers also have options from the speedy Trovon Reed to the 290 pound H-Back LaDarius Phillips. Auburn is still in the midst of a quarterback race, but junior Barrett Trotter seems to have the upper hand at this point. Regardless of whether Trotter or sophomore Clint Moseley start, Auburn will field a quarterback with three year's worth of experience practicing the Gus Malzhan offensive system. Unfortunately for Ole Miss, they have to replace both safeties this season. Leading candidates going into fall camp are senior Damien Jackson and sophomore Brishen Matthews. Advantage: Auburn.
On paper, Auburn has significant advantages, but one can never sell Houston Nutt short when his squad is expected to be down. Ole Miss will plan to keep the chains moving, eat up the clock, and keep a dangerous Auburn offense on the sideline. Long punts will help the Rebel cause here as well. If Ole Miss goes three and out frequently, Auburn will score a lot of points. The Tigers must guard against a let-down, sloppy game. The best case scenario would be for Auburn to run out to an early lead. Ole Miss showed a tendency to tank last season when they got behind quickly, and may again this year.
Defensively, Auburn is going to have to come up, fill and hit in the front seven. Ole Miss will try to pound it, and one thing you can count on from a Houston Nutt squad is that they'll play physical on the O-line, and their run-blocking schemes will be solid. Auburn cannot afford to be pushed around up front. Here's hoping that some of the incoming freshman Auburn tackles have become solid playing-rotation members to help out with fatigue by the time we play Ole Miss.
Prediction: Ole Miss has some success offensively, but has difficulty sustaining drives against a run-blitzing Roof scheme. The Tiger offense methodically chews away at the young Rebel defense, and Auburn wins this one 41-16.