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Ole Miss’ O-line could be down 2 starters against Auburn

Every Monday, we sort through the coach speak so you don’t have to. Here’s what you need to know from Hugh Freeze’s press conference.

Arkansas v Auburn Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Ole Miss’ coaches did all they could during the offseason to dull the hype surrounding Greg Little, the country’s top offensive tackle prospect and the heir apparent to Laremy Tunsil. They insisted at every opportunity that Tunsil’s incredible freshman season was the exception to the rule; that Little wouldn’t be expected to walk in and start at left tackle in the SEC. Through six games he’s remained the backup, but an injury to starter Rod Taylor may finally force Little into a starting role.

Hugh Freeze revealed during his Monday press conference that Taylor suffered a high ankle sprain against LSU and is questionable to play against Auburn this Saturday, meaning Little’s first career start could come against one of the most ferocious defensive lines in the SEC.

Not that this will be entirely new to Little, who’s seen plenty of the field while rotating in for Taylor this season. He finished the game against LSU after Taylor hobbled off in the third quarter last week, though things didn’t go all that smoothly—Little almost immediately allowed two sacks in the span of three plays.

“He is getting better and better. It is tough environments to play in,” Freeze said on Monday. “Those tackles on the edge out there are the last ones to know the ball is snapped and you are playing against a senior-led defensive line like the other night, and that’s difficult. After he kind of settled in, I thought he did well. He is going to be an outstanding player and he’s an outstanding leader, he is a great young man and he’s going to have a bright future.”

Reestablishing the running game would go a long way in protecting Little from the pass rush of star Auburn defensive end Carl Lawson (6.5 sacks this season), but that won’t be easy against a Tigers defense that ranks 11th in the country in rushing S&P+.

“Their front six... just jump off the page at you. They are an issue, they are a problem for you, for whoever plays them,” Freeze said. “They are an elite defense, so whether you are zone blocking them or back schemes or pass protecting, it is an issue and it is one that you cannot afford to get behind the chains on.”

Indeed, Auburn is 10th in the nation in passing-downs sack rate, meaning Ole Miss will need to have success on early downs to keep Lawson and Co. from pinning their ears back. The problem is that Auburn also ranks 15th in the country in defensive efficiency, i.e. keeping teams off schedule.

Complicating things even further is the fact that Taylor isn’t the only Rebel blocker who’s banged up. Starting right guard Jordan Sims, who Freeze said has graded out as one of the top linemen this season, also limped off with an ankle injury against LSU and is questionable against Auburn. Freeze said backup Daronte Bouldin “did OK” in relief but is “not used to playing that many snaps.”