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This game certainly lost some of the glamor after Ole Miss faltered against LSU. I care less about that than I do about the defensive meltdown that Auburn fielded against South Carolina. You can read about my thoughts, check out the pictures, and watch my video of the festivities in my South Carolina Review.
Auburn's defense has taken a major step back against the Gamecocks, and while I would love to play the "wait and see" card, on behalf of the Old Ball Coach, I already played that card after Mississippi State. Auburn has no pass rush, and though the secondary is leaps and bounds above where they have been in the last few years, there is only so much you can expect from them. Auburn's offense was nearly perfect against a terrible South Carolina defense, so though I do think they will find success against Ole Miss, I wouldn't point fingers at this past game.
Ole Miss managed to bottle up a young LSU offense for most of the night, but folded late in the game. The LSU defense that couldn't stop Auburn managed to suffocate Bo Wallace and the Ole Miss offense. Eventually, Bo gave the game away, as he has managed to do for all 3 years as a starter.
Auburn's Offense vs Ole Miss Defense
Right now, it's easy for the pundits to point at the loss against LSU and say that the vaunted Ole Miss defense let the team down. Sure, they gave up a game winning drive late in the game, but they held their opponent to 10 points. 10 POINTS! Along the way,they forced Jennings into 8-16 passing and picked him off twice and forced two other turnovers. I mean, what more do you want? Well, how about slowing down the run? They allowed LSU to pound away 260+ yards on the ground. And that is why many people are saying that this coming game won't be close, though Ole Miss is 2.5 point favorite so far. I am a believer of the Ole Miss defense. I do believe they are a very good unit. But, I also believe that Ole Miss has benefited from a lot of hype AGAIN. A lot has been made of the vaunted land sharks, but who have they really stopped? Even is a win against Bama, they still lost the yardage battle, allowing 400 yards and 33:21 in time of possession. They did manage to do one thing, and that was contain Amari Cooper. But, let's be honest. Bama's inability to convert a fieldgoal is astounding. They were 1-3 . When combined, these stats show that the defense didn't exactly dominate the way they have been propped up. But, they are very good when the ball is in the air. Whenever the ball is in the air, there is a very good chance they will come down with it. Additionally, the N'Kimdiche brothers have been awesome. But, the elder one is out for this game, and I think that hurts the Rebels worse than Robert being out.
Auburn's offense ran all over South Carolina, and while they didn't throw much, they were certainly efficient. I have to agree with many of the pros. Ole Miss is excellent against the pass. But, they have been gashed with the run. Yeldon wracked up yards in the win against Bama. LSU has the aforementioned 260 yards on the ground. Those two teams are the only ones that they have faced with any semblance of a run game. Auburn may not have the rushing attack that it had at the end of 2013, but it was this time last year when it really came on strong. Though I don't think it will develop into the 2013 unit, I do think it is equally dangerous. Unlike last year, Auburn has a real chance of converting any 3rd and distance in the air. Expect Auburn to run the ball constantly against Ole Miss and for Marshall to have under 15 attempts on the day. I am interested to see if Sammie Coates will return to his former self. To me, it looks as if he is rushing to get back on the field and he is clearly not 100%. I am sure he doesn't want to shut it down this early in the season, considering his draft stock was soaring just before the first kickoff. I wouldn't be surprised if we see him sit for the rest of the season if he can't bounce back in the next 2 games. Duke Williams was held to his second lowest outing of the year. I'd love to see him have another big game, but the ability for Ole Miss to match up to him without Coates on the other side of him really limits his ability to produce down the field. Auburn runs using a multi-faceted attack featuring multiple backs and misdirection.
Auburn's Defense vs Ole Miss Offense
This is the 3rd year that Ole Miss has had a mid season meltodwn. Each year, the media props them up more than last. Remember when they were a .500 team in 2012 , but they were such a big deal? In 2013, they were the next big thing in the west until Bama dismantled them and Auburn destroyed them. In both years, they ended up midpack in the SEC West after being propped up as a contender. A lot of the blame falls directly on the shoulders of Ole Miss Coach Freeze and Bo Wallace. Wallace has the ability to consistently give games away. He throws in the one place he shouldn't and he manages to fumble at the worst times. But, why is he getting away with this? Well, for the past 3 years, the Freeze offense has been a powerhouse against inferior competition. And, instead of adapting and finding a true identity, they forge ahead with the same crap that worked against lesser teams. The problem is, SEC West defenses are coached by great coaches and feature the best players. Each week that you keep doing the same things is one more film session that defenses have to pattern the Ole miss offense. By the time Week 9 rolls around, defenses can have a script of the Ole Miss offense in their wristband. And, since he has been able to throw into coverage or run over diminutive defenses, Wallace tries to do the same against premier competition. And it doesn't work.
Two weeks ago I was ready to crown the Auburn defense as elite. But, I took the "wait and see" approach since LSU was unquestionably bad at Auburn and Mississippi State was handed the game on account of Auburn turnovers. The Old Ball Coach brought an offense into Auburn last Saturday that was nearly flawless in it's execution. They had to punt just once and managed to throw 2 INTs in the endzone, though I credit Jones with superior gameplay by TURNING AROUND TO LOOK FOR THE BALL. What a novel concept. Anyway, sorry about that tangent.
Auburn excels against the run, but Ole Miss has virtually no run game to speak of outside of Wallace. In that regard, Auburn has faced only Prescott as a run threat QB and did fairly well against him, though he was able to get loose on a few plays. It's easy to point at the 2 TDs he did score and say that Auburn has a problem with the running QB, but only 1 of those plays was really a legitimate run, a 20 yard or so scamper right up the middle. And, Wallace has the affinity to fumble the ball. he has one of the highest fumble percentages that I can recall.
The matchup against Treadwell will be one to watch. We saw how prototypical WRs like Mississippi State's Wilson or South Carolina's Cooper can affect Auburn's secondary. Auburn's lack of a pass rush negated the progress that Auburn's secondary has made this year. The inability to get pressure on the QB forced the Auburn secondary to turn their backs to the ball in order to cover the receivers during long drop back pass plays. Treadwell has all the tools of a future NFL receiver and is not someone that any defensive back wants to have to cover, especially over a long amount of time. Will Johsnon stick the emerging star in Jones on Treadwell?
Perhaps the other dangerous matchup will be against the Rebel Tight End, Engram, who may be the best TE in the country. It will be interesting to see if Auburn blitzes with Therezie and guards Engram with an LB or vice-versa. He possesses a tremendous size advantage on Therezie, but Therezie has the motor and ball skills needed to pull it off. Frost has been decent in coverage and has the size and speed, but it takes a man out of the middle of the field, which may be what Wallace wants to see, as he can step up up and run. Auburn has to blitz early and often as it is. I would rather have Frost coming up the middle to meet an escaping Wallace, than Therezie off the edge where Wallace can easily evade him.
Ultimately, I expect Ole Miss and Wallace to do what they have done in the past. Wallace will find a way to lose. Last year it was the Pick 6 to #27.
Jeeze, let's hope it doesn't come down to this. Bray had a fantastic punt return in his one attempt this past week, only to have it ripped out. Auburn hasn't had a kick off return for a TD yet. On the flip side, Ole Miss has caused fumbles on kickoffs and has a pretty good unit. I will have to grade this a push.
Players of the Game
The Auburn RB Corp. I expect CAP to carry to load, but Auburn will run it. A lot. And Marshall, CAP, Thomas, and Grant will all be in on it.
Evan Engram. The aforementioned tight end is a Gronk type matchup nightmare. Auburn's secondary is good, especially in the red zone, but can the defense cover these receivers, get pressure on Wallace AND manage to keep him from running while covering the big TE? I have my doubts. Inside the redzone, this guy scares me. I see Ole Miss spreading out the receivers, catching an Auburn blitz up the middle and tossing it to the big guy up the middle.
Treadwell/Jones. I think this will be a back and forth matchup. Who wins if the receiver comes down with a TD and the defensive back comes down with an INT? Either way, this will be the matchup to watch.
Auburn wins 24-17