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Game Preview and Open Thread: Auburn @ Ole Miss

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Ok, this is time for a little bit of a bounceback, but it has to come against one of the best offensive minds in the land.

NCAA Football: Arkansas at Auburn John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

We can play the silly game of pretending that last week didn’t happen, and talk about “Oh, it’ll be great to see Auburn play after a week off”, but we have to be real. What happened in Columbia was at first quite pleasing, but it quickly devolved into what we may see a good bit of this season.

We didn’t really count on what would happen if we lost some of our star linebackers, and we can now reveal that only two guys playing every snap tend to get a little tired. All of a sudden, Bo Nix and Seth Williams are arguing on the sideline — this was supposed to be our special connection!

HOWEVER. After just a few games, Auburn is, by many accounts, one of the most successful rushing teams in the conference. Tank Bigsby is one of the tougher and slipperier backs in the league. He can catch the ball out of the backfield, and he’s not going down on the first hit. Ever. And even the offensive line seems to be figuring things out in the rushing game!

We have a bit of an identity problem, though. Bo Nix has thrown the ball a lot. We’ve definitely got the kind of receivers that can make those plays, but somehow Bo and his crew aren’t on the same page. The offensive line doesn’t know how to pass protect yet. I keep getting flashbacks of free rushers every time I close my eyes.

And now we’re going to be taking on a team that could be that rattlesnake in the grass, ready to bit at any time. Ole Miss hasn’t exactly set the world on fire, but they’ve had a couple of really impressive performances. First they posted more than 600 yards apiece in losses to Florida and Alabama, and diced through those defenses like nothing else. Unfortunately, they allowed about 700 yards on average to the opposing offenses. Currently the Rebels give up 265 yards per game on the ground at a 6.2 yards per pop rate. This is an opportunity.

In case you weren’t aware, Auburn has a rich history of rushers taking advantage against Ole Miss.

  • 2000 - Rudi Johnson - 29 carries, 165 yards, 2 TDs
  • 2002 - Ronnie Brown - 33 carries, 224 yards, 3 TDs
  • 2004 - Ronnie Brown/Cadillac Williams - 32 carries, 196 yards, 2 TDs
  • 2009 - Ben Tate - 25 carries, 144 yards, 1 TD
  • 2010 - Michael Dyer - 21 carries, 180 yards, 1 TD
  • 2011 - Michael Dyer - 27 carries, 177 yards, 1 TD
  • 2013 - Nick Marshall - 14 carries, 140 yards, 2 TDs
  • 2014 - Cameron Artis-Payne - 27 carries, 138 yards, 1 TD
  • 2016 - Kam Pettway - 30 carries, 236 yards, 1 TD
  • 2017 - Kerryon Johnson - 28 carries, 204 yards, 3 TDs
  • 2018 - Boobee Whitlow - 19 carries, 170 yards

That’s just this millennium! You can see some of Auburn’s best all-time individual performances on that list. It’s going to lead into what we’ll see later today with Tank Bigsby. Today has to be an opportunity for the Auburn offense. Get back to what Gus Malzahn knows how to do, since apparently they’re not bad at it. We need to make this a quick game and we gotta get home for lunch.

SERIES HISTORY: 33-11 in favor of Auburn. The Tigers have won four straight and six out of the last seven.

LAST MEETING: Whew, this was a much closer than necessary 20-14 win for Auburn in 2019. Bo Nix had a great night with 340 yards passing, but the offense couldn’t punch anything in once they hit the red zone Anders Carlson went just 2-5 on field goals, and the Tigers had to rebuff a late Rebel drive late to preserve the win.

Oh, and Derrick Brown killed a guy.

LAST WEEK: Well, for Auburn...

And for Ole Miss, they weren’t great either. Matt Corral threw six interceptions in a loss to Arkansas. Wait, how many interceptions?

So yeah, this is a game for Gus to not get fired and for Lane Kiffin to have fun because that’s certainly what they hired him to do in Oxford.

KEYS FOR AUBURN:

  1. We touched on it above, but BY GOD RUN THE BALL 60 TIMES. Ole Miss is horrible — ATROCIOUS — at stopping the run. They literally only stopped Najee Harris by buttering the ball near the goal line, and they’re dead last — DEAD LAST — in the nation in scoring defense. Yes, last! They allow 265 rushing yards per game. Auburn must run the ball every time. 30 carries for Tank, another 15 for D.J. Williams, and 10 for Shaun Shivers in his first action back with a few sprinkled in for Anthony Schwartz or Eli Stove. If Bo Nix throws more than 15 times, the Gus Bus loses a few more passengers.
  2. Running the ball speeds the game up, and that means our defense will be a little less tired with fewer opportunities for the Ole Miss offense, but there’s still an area where Auburn has to do better, and that’s getting off of the field on third downs. Ole Miss can absolutely roll up yards and points, and maybe our defense won’t actually be tired because the Rebels score quickly, but we need to see improvement in forcing punts. Maybe Matt Corral’s six-pick day will swing around and bit him again as well.
  3. As much as it pains me to say this, Gus and Chad Morris have to limit Bo Nix’s involvement in the offense. Just try it for today. Let him be a game manager. He doesn’t need to be the gunslinger, and after last week, he needs to take a breather to just run the offense and not try to force everything. Sometimes watching him play quarterback is the perfect square peg/round hole analogy, but he’s the wrong type of fiery at the moment. The sideline interaction and attitude last week shows that much. Another outing like that and you’re going to have more than a few Auburn fans calling for Caylin Newton to get in the game and run his older brother’s zone read offense.
  4. Remember who you are. When you’re the head coach at Auburn (and Gus has done fantastic at this), you need to beat certain teams at a pretty solid clip. Like an 80% clip. Gus has done that against Ole Miss, with just one loss to the Rebels (in his worst year). After other disappointing defeats during his career, he’s been hit or miss, sometimes rebounding hard and other times stringing together a pair of losses. It’s no coincidence that those were some of the instances when the Auburn faithful questioned the job status of their head man.

STRESS-O-METER:

Just run the ball, guys. War Damn Eagle.