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GAME RECAP: #18 Auburn 31, #10 Ole Miss 20

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The Tigers run to victory and the defense finds key stops left and right.

NCAA Football: Mississippi at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

The Tigers broke out every bit of orange they had, made it a spooky road affair for Ole Miss, and scored a top ten victory on the night before Halloween. Auburn beat the 10th-ranked Rebels 31-20 at Jordan-Hare Stadium to improve to 6-2 and put another feather in the cap of Bryan Harsin in his debut season.

Auburn’s rushing attack took center stage on offense early to set the tone, and finished the game with 207 yards, including a 140-yard night from Tank Bigsby to set him back on track. Bo Nix was also very efficient, going 22-30 for 276 yards and a touchdown, effectively outdueling Heisman contender Matt Corral.

Meanwhile, the Auburn defense played opportunistic football, rebuffing Ole Miss in the red zone on fourth down three times in the second half, while also grabbing a huge interception on another trip.

Auburn certainly didn’t waste any time out of the gate, establishing the run game early and often on the first couple of drives. The opening possession went quickly down the field in 11 plays for 82 yards, with Tank Bigsby gaining 28 of the yards on the ground. Bo Nix finished the drive on a keeper from 11 yards away to put Auburn up 7-0 immediately.

Ole Miss answered, throwing in a smooth mix of RPO and short passes as they bolted downfield, but the Auburn defense stood tall in the red zone. Zakoby McClain tackled Matt Corral on third down to force a field goal try, and the Tiger lead was cut to 7-3 at the 6:31 mark after the short field goal from Caden Costa.

The powerful rushing display from the first drive didn’t stop after just one possession for Auburn. The Tigers opened the second drive of the game with a 26-yard Tank Bigsby jaunt, and the tailback would cap the drive several plays later from just outside the goal line with a dive over the top to put Auburn up 14-3.

After that drive, Auburn’s defense buckled down, and hassled Matt Corral in the backfield. Derick Hall rolled over his ankle early on in the drive, and Corral left for the locker room. Auburn then forced the Rebels backward 9 yards on the next two plays with backup quarterback Luke Altmyer in the game, and Ole Miss had to punt. Unfortunately, the Tigers went stale on their next possession and had to punt right back to the Rebels at the beginning of the second quarter.

Ole Miss started at their own 12-yard line with Altmyer still in the game, and he moved the ball into Auburn’s end in 9 plays before Matt Corral came out of the locker room to return to the game. Lane Kiffin called a timeout to get his starter back in, and 6 plays later Snoop Conner scampered 13 yards off right end for the Rebels’ first touchdown of the game to cut the lead to 14-10.

Auburn went back to basics on the next drive with Tank Bigsby grabbing 15 yards on a couple of carries before Bo Nix found Demetris Robertson for 35 yards. Two plays after that, Nix went around left end for his second touchdown run of the night, this time from 7 yards out.

With Auburn ahead 21-10, there was still work ahead for the defense to figure out a way to stop Matt Corral and the Rebel offense. They wouldn’t find any answers on the next drive, as Ole Miss zipped down the field in 10 plays to cover 75 yards and they capped the drive with an 11-yard touchdown run from the previously injured Corral.

As Ole Miss would receive the ball to start the second half, Auburn didn’t want to let them get a two-for-one situation and bookend halftime with scores, and the Tigers didn’t disappoint. Getting the ball with 2:29 left until the intermission, Bo Nix went 5-7 on the drive, getting the Tigers down to a first and goal with only :15 to play. After a spike to stop the clock, Nix hit Jarquez Hunter with a little swing pass and the freshman strolled into the end zone for Auburn’s fourth touchdown of the half.

FIRST HALF STATS

The second half started much weirder than the first half to be sure. Auburn’s defense made halftime adjustments, and forced two straight three and outs to begin the third period. The first offensive drive for the Tigers started with a huge play-action pass to Tyler Fromm down the right sideline for 31 yards, but Anders Carlson doinked a field goal attempt off the right upright several plays later, and Auburn came up empty-handed.

The second drive for the Tigers never materialized as Demetris Robertson fumbled the punt and gave Ole Miss possession deep in Auburn’s end of the field, but the Tigers held strong on four straight plays and Corral’s fourth down pass fell incomplete. Auburn took over at their own 20, but things didn’t improve. On a third and long, Nick Brahms snapped the ball early and low, and Bo Nix was forced to loft it up out of play. Auburn punted again, and the Rebels drove into Tiger territory once more before being pushed back by penalties. After failing on a 3rd and 25, Caden Costa banged home a 49-yard field goal to cut the lead to one score at 28-20 Auburn.

The Tigers were unable to move the ball on the next possession, and Ole Miss took over after a touchback at their own 25 with 5:02 remaining in the third quarter. After an offensive pass interference, Matt Corral converted a 3rd and 10 with a 26 yard completion to Jahcour Pearson, and then inside the red zone with another toss to Casey Kelly to set up a first down at the Tiger 16. Ole Miss failed on first, second, and third down, and Lane Kiffin elected to go for another fourth down deep in Auburn territory, but the pass rush reached Corral and forced an errant throw. Another turnover on downs.

Auburn got a completion from Nix to Shedrick Jackson, then a 24-yard run by Bigsby to midfield as the quarter ended. To start the fourth period, Auburn got close to converting on third down, and then banged ahead on fourth and 2 with Jarquez Hunter. On the next play, Nix hit Kobe Hudson for 24 more yards to move to the Ole Miss 15-yard line. Unfortunately, Jarquez Hunter was stopped on a third and short, and Auburn had to kick. With Anders Carlson’s field goal sailing through, the Tigers reestablished a two-score lead at 31-20 with 10:52 to play.

Ole Miss went to work quickly needing to make up ground, moving into Auburn’s end of the field on a 35-yard completion from Corral to Dannis Jackson. After three Auburn defensive backs came up injured in the span of two plays, Matt Corral went for broke on a hard throw to the end zone, and Jaylin Simpson stepped in front of the pass for the key interception.

Unfortunately for the Tigers, after a third down conversion to Shaun Shivers, Kobe Hudson fumbled on a screen pass that would have netted first down yardage had he held onto the ball. Ole Miss regained possession at their own 47 yard line with 6:27 left in the ballgame.

After one quick pass, Ole Miss was back near the red zone on another big completion to Pearson, but Auburn held on first, second, and third down once again after that, bringing up yet another fourth down situation. Auburn got to Corral, forcing an errant throw through the end zone again, and an ineligible man downfield penalty just added insult to injury. Auburn took over once more on downs with less than five minutes to play.

Tank Bigsby ran for one first down, forcing Lane Kiffin to start burning timeouts as the clock melted under four minutes to play. Two more first downs, including the clincher on an 11-yard run by Jarquez Hunter, and Auburn went into the victory formation to win 31-20.

FINAL STATS

PLAYER OF THE GAME

Tank Bigsby - 23 carries, 140 yards, 1 TD; 2 catches, 10 yards - We’ve all been clamoring to get this guy involved in the offense once again, and it happened tonight. He set the tone with hard running in the beginning, and was there to provide the Tigers a sense of stability when they needed something dependable on offense. Ole Miss didn’t have much of an answer for him, and he showed why he’s such a key player for the Tigers.

UP NEXT

Auburn will hit the road to take on Texas A&M next Saturday, with game time yet to be announced. Auburn will either play on CBS during the day, or on ESPN for a morning/noon kickoff or primetime. We’ll find out tomorrow what the final decision turns out to be.