The Rebels travel to the plains of Alabama this weekend for a crucial division contest. Auburn is reeling from a 45-10 loss to the other Tigers of the West. With questions surrounding the defense, quarterback and offensive line, this could be a prime opportunity for a classic Houston Nutt surprise. With Ole Miss sitting on a 2-5 record and looking at a November game with LSU, a loss to Auburn could very well bury any chance of Ole Miss making it to post season play.
When the Rebels are on offense:
Last weekend, the Rebel offense showed some life as Randall Mackey looked like the assertive playmaker we had hoped for. Though he only got six carries before his ankle injury flared up, Brandon Bolden added a real pop to the running game that was missing. The offensive line also took some steps forward, with true freshman Aaron Morris and RS Freshman Evan Swindall performing adequately, which is an improvement over the line's previous performance.
Auburn's defense has been rather porous this year, so I'd be particularly surprised if they shut us down completely. Though they do show up on occasion (USC for instance), Auburn has not shown the ability to consistently keep offenses off the field. I'd look for us to continue attacking the edge with Nickolas Brassell and Jeff Scott and mixing in some carries for BB.
Donte Moncrief is beginning to assert himself as our best deep threat in the passing game. With Auburn's lackluster pass defense, I'd be very surprised if they were able to lockdown both Moncrief and Brassell the whole game. I'd like to see Ja-Mes Logan become a little more involved in the passing game as he is also a reliable receiver. Outside of those three though, I don't have too much confidence in the rest of the receiving corps. Look for David Lee to come out swinging again with some trickeration such as reverses, sweeps and misdirections. Whether or not the offensive output can be sustained in the second half is what will concern me. For whatever reason, Nutt, Lee and co. seem to think that they are coaching hockey and the third quarter is just an extended break between periods. If Auburn's offense shows any signs of life, we can't just say "Eh, screw the third quarter, we got another one after that".
When the Rebels are on Defense:
I rewatched the Arkansas game earlier this week to figure out why we were getting gashed on the runs. What I noticed, surprisingly enough, was that our linebackers simply weren't making the plays. Now, I've griped all season long about us not playing enough people in the box, but on Dennis Johnson's big runs, our linebackers were either getting picked up by offensive lineman, filling the wrong gap, or simply missing the tackle. If our defensive line is not going to keep the offensive lineman off our linebackers, we are going to have to put more people in the box. Auburn has had trouble in the passing game and are going to lean on Mike Dyer (we all remember last season, no?) to run through our defense.
If we allow Dyer to rip off five, six and seven yard runs early, we will not be able to stop Auburn. Their offense starts with Dyer's ability to sustain drives. When Dyer establishes himself, lanes open up for Onterio McCalleb and the TIgers anemic passing game.
If Tyrone Nix doesn't figure out a way to get run support, we will be staring down the barrell of another miserable night game.
If we're the best 2-5 team in the nation, as Gene Chizik says, then we could be in luck. Auburn may be one of the worst 5-3 teams in the nation. While they're certainly a competent football team with solid coaching, our own coaches should see that they are a vulnerable team that is prone to laying an egg on occasion. They are coming off a thrashing at the hand of their western division rivals and will be looking to become bowl eligible against us. Oh yeah, and their offensive coordinator got his start in college football because our head coach hired him to get a whiny bitch of a quarterback.
I think we start strong in the first quarter. I wouldn't be surprised if Auburn went three-and-out on their first possession. However, they won't stop running Dyer just because it doesn't work in the first quarter. Dyer carried the ball 40 times against South Cackalack, so we will have to consistently get two or three hats on him every time he touches the ball. While McCalleb is a gamebreaker, he can be contained when the defense is looking for him to run. Simply put, if we can limit Dyer's yardage and ability to affect our defensive playcalling, we can beat the Tigers. Unfortunately, I have no reason to think Tyrone Nix will be able to make adjustments (other than "Blitz the shit outta them!") that match Auburn's adjustments and Dyer eventually breaks lose. We have a great shot, but this team has yet to show that it can just go out and win. Despite our offense putting up between 350 and 400 yards, Ole Miss falls 31-21.