Well, it wasn’t dominant or pretty, but Auburn traveled to Ole Miss and came away with a much needed victory.
There is still plenty of room for improvement from the Tigers, but it will be much easier for the coaches and players to make that happen with a 3-2 record instead of the 2-3 record staring them in the face with about five minutes left in the contest.
Auburn survived again on the backs of standout offensive performances by Tank Bigsby and Seth Williams, along with a little help from another questionable officiating decision that may have deprived Ole Miss from a much needed touchdown late in the game.
Even after the apparent muffed kickoff return that the referees missed, the Rebels had opportunities to win the game and were unable to do so.
The Rebels are likely to be upset with the officiating, but a final offensive drive that came up short due to mismanaging the clock and dropped passes are what ultimately sealed their fate.
Take a look at the key things that decided Auburn’s 35-28 win over Ole Miss:
Overpowering rushing attacks
Some combination of talented tailbacks, perceived weakness in the defensive fronts, less than perfect weather and a desire to protect quarterbacks who combined for nine interceptions last week led to both squads planning to run the football this week.
Whatever the exact reasoning, the results were extremely positive for both offenses today. Auburn rushed for 224 yards on 47 carries, while Ole Miss ran for 283 yards on 51 attempts.
There were seven players between the two teams who rushed for at least 48 yards, including three different quarterbacks. Interestingly, the quarterback run game seemed to be designed from the beginning as a way to involve the signal callers without placing too much pressure on them with decision making. The gameplans were effective for both squads, as neither defense ever really solved the opponents rushing attack.
Finally, just a quick mention that Auburn freshman phenom Tank Bigsby rushed for 129 yards and two touchdowns against Ole Miss. He has now rushed for over 100 yards in three consecutive games and also had an incredible 100 yard kick return for a touchdown called back on a completely unnecessary hold behind the play.
At this point, any call that involves giving Tank the ball is a good one. Bigsby must be the focal point of the Auburn offense.
Protecting the quarterback
Protecting quarterbacks Bo Nix and Matt Corral (of Auburn and Ole Miss, respectively) was critical for both squads today. Both play-calling and offensive line play managed to do that for most of the day.
There were a total of four passes thrown more than 10 yards down the field before Ole Miss’ final drive of the game. Instead, both teams opted for running the football and throwing quick passes to limit chances of turning the ball over.
On the day there was only one egregious decision made throwing the ball, and it ultimately was the difference in the game. In the first quarter, Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral threw an ill-advised pass on 3rd and goal from the 4-yard line that was intercepted by Auburn defensive back Roger McCreary.
The fact that the Rebels came away with no points while having a 1st and goal situation, put them in a situation of needing to score a touchdown on the last drive to tie the game instead of a field goal being enough to win.
Conversely, Auburn quarterback Bo Nix played a clean game passing and was a huge success running the ball. At this point, Nix’s most valuable trait may be that he causes problems for opposing defenses with his legs.
To his credit, Nix did make a really good throw to receiver Seth Williams with just over a minute left in the game. The star wideout’s reception and 42 yard run became the game-winning touchdown. Bo Nix bounced back from a brutal game last week and did what was asked of him today, leading to a win over the Rebels.
The game is rigged against defenses today as rule changes, spread offenses and dynamic quarterbacks make the task of stopping an opponent nearly impossible.
Today the Tigers’ defense did its job in a couple of senses. First of all, they kept the opponents from scoring more than their own team (obviously the ultimate goal). Also, Auburn held Ole Miss to its lowest scoring total of the season through the first five games. Lastly, the Tigers remain the only team in the SEC that has not given up more than 30 points in a game this year (as arbitrary as that number may be).
However, it is extremely concerning and quite disorienting to see Auburn defenses get pushed around. Auburn’s calling card throughout its history has been a physical brand of football, especially defensively. Watching Ole Miss rack up nearly 300 yards rushing at 5.5 yards per attempt was strange.
Credit the Rebels’ players and coaches for planning and executing a rushing attack that was outstanding today, but Auburn left a lot to be desired defensively.
Last week’s second half performance against South Carolina combined with today’s showing versus the Rebels means that Auburn’s defense must toughen up going forward.
It appears that the Auburn offense may be finding its footing in the running game, so if the Tigers’ defense can stiffen, that is a proven recipe for a successful football team. The Auburn defense can improve its schemes, tackling and effort. It must do so for the Tigers to win games through the remainder of the schedule.
Zack Shaw is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News and former walk-on for the Auburn Tigers. You can contact him by email: email@example.com or on Twitter @z_m_shaw