Two teams headed in opposite directions meet this Saturday in Oxford, Mississippi. No. 15 Auburn (5-2, 3-1 SEC) enters the game on a four-game winning streak after a 1-2 start to the season. The Rebels of Ole Miss (3-4, 1-3 SEC) enter the game on a two-game losing streak. Saturday’s matchup will be the 41st time the two programs meet, with the Tigers leading the series 29-11.
Auburn is fresh off a dominant 53-point win over Arkansas in a game which the Tiger offense rushed for 543 yards collectively and gained 632 yards of total offense. It’s no secret Auburn loves running the football, as they’ve rushed for over 410 yards on three separate occasions this season and are the top rushing team in the SEC. This spells trouble for an Ole Miss rush defense that’s allowing 226 rushing yards per game, which ranks dead last in the SEC and 113th nationally.
The sun isn’t shining in Oxford these days. Aside from an ongoing NCAA investigation, the Rebels’ season has been disappointing this far. Ole Miss entered the season ranked No. 11, but have failed to make a statement win this season — losing games to Florida State, Alabama, Arkansas and LSU. With the SEC West title out of reach, the Rebels enter Saturday’s contest with their pride on the line.
Ole Miss head coach Huge Freeze knows the season won’t get any easier going forward.
“Our kids were obviously disappointed. Our coaches are disappointed,” Freeze said on Monday. “That’s part of the life we live in this conference. We’ve got to rebound, continue to work and hopefully the leaders will lead. We look forward to another challenge at home this Saturday.”
The Rebels rely heavily on quarterback Chad Kelly, as Ole Miss goes as Kelly goes. Over the past couple of games, the gunslinger hasn’t played up to his potential. Viewed by many as having one of the strongest arms in all of college football, the senior leads the SEC in passing yards (2,067) and has the third best QB rating in the conference (147.2). On the flip side, Kelly has also thrown seven interceptions, which ranks second in the SEC. His play has also been sporadic over the course of the season.
Although the Rebels have struggled this season, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn knows Ole Miss is more talented than its record shows.
“Anybody can beat anybody. It’s a grind. It’s a survival of the fittest.” Malzahn said on Tuesday, “Our players know how talented they are. Obviously, last year, they got after us really well.”
Despite the recent success, Malzahn isn’t satisfied with his team just yet.
“We haven’t arrived,” Malzahn said. “We’ve got to keep working. We’ve got to keep improving.”
The most impressive aspect of the Tigers’ 543-yard rushing performance last weekend was that they did it without their best running back. Sophomore Kerryon Johnson will return to action this Saturday, giving Auburn another electric playmaker on offense. On the season, Johnson has 538 yards and six touchdowns on 105 carries.
The Rebels are trying to avoid a three-game skid, while the Tigers are looking to extend their winning streak to five games. Auburn is one of the hottest teams in the country right now and that’ll continue Saturday. While Kelly will look to throw a wrench into Auburn’s SEC West dreams, the Tigers’ running game will be too much for a putrid Ole Miss rush defense. Auburn wins a close one, 30-27.
Edited by David Bradford
Featured image by Ken Lund