Auburn earned a much needed SEC win on the road at Ole Miss in Week Five. The Tigers’ offense put together its most effective and efficient effort of the season. Auburn’s defense struggled to stop the Rebels’ rushing attack, but did manage to intercept two passes. Meanwhile, the special teams units for Auburn had two bad snaps that could have been disastrous, seemingly touched a kickoff that Ole Miss recovered for a touchdown (the officials ruled otherwise), and had a 100 kickoff return for a touchdown negated by a holding penalty.
The up and down performance led to a one-score game with Ole Miss having a chance to tie the game on the final play. It wouldn’t be an Auburn football game without some measure of strangeness, chaos or officiating ambiguity, and the contest versus the Ole Miss Rebels certainly delivered.
Today, we look at three numbers, two notes and a quote that summarize the 35-28 victory for Auburn over Ole Miss.
A number of things have ailed the Tigers in the early part of the 2020 season, but nothing has been more impactful than struggles in the redzone. Against Ole Miss, the Auburn offense seemed to find some much needed answers to the redzone questions. The Tigers scored touchdowns on all four trips inside the Ole Miss 20-yard line versus the Rebels.
Certainly, any touchdown is a good touchdown, but Auburn was able to run the ball for all four scores in the redzone, which should build confidence moving forward. Admittedly, Ole Miss has the worst defense statistically in the SEC. However, the Tigers should be able to take some momentum and confidence forward on offense after this performance.
Auburn forced two turnovers and gave away none against Ole Miss, and that proved to be critical in the game. The Auburn offensive staff clearly had a plan to limit quarterback Bo Nix’s exposure to high risk plays by calling almost exclusively short passes and rushing attempts. The strategy paid off as Nix completed 76% of his passes and avoided any interceptions.
On the other side of the field, Ole Miss actually attempted roughly the same strategy as Auburn. However, Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral threw an interception in the first quarter from the Auburn four-yard line that cost the Rebels points they could have used later in the game. The matchup between Auburn and Ole Miss came down to minimizing risk, and Auburn was more successful in that category.
Over the past decade especially, football has become a passing game. Quarterbacks are more accurate, rules are more favorable, and analytics say that passing is a better strategy. However, Auburn and Ole Miss turned back the clock in their matchup by rushing for 507 yards and seven touchdowns combined.
The ground game took center stage between the Tigers and Rebels, and neither defense came close to stopping their opponent’s rushing attack. That fact is likely encouraging for both offenses and worrying for the defenses. It will be interesting to see if these teams can repeat those performances throughout the rest of their schedules, but the running game was the story in Oxford.
Bo Nix bounces back
The following axiom is true: Quarterbacks get more credit than they deserve in wins and more blame than they deserve in losses.
That isn’t to say that some quarterbacking performances aren’t spectacular and others dreadful. Of course, that is the case, just like players at any other position. However, by nature of the position, quarterbacks get headlines for better or worse.
Last week, Auburn quarterback Bo Nix got lots of headlines that exclusively fell in the “for worse” category, and they were largely accurate. Nix would be the first to tell you that his performance against South Carolina was not acceptable.
He came back this week and did exactly what was needed to lead his team to a victory over Ole Miss. Nix protected the football, completed timely passes, kept plays alive with his legs, and was a major factor in the rushing attack. Auburn’s offensive coaches put Nix in better positions, and the quarterback responded by turning in his best performance of the season.
Expect Nix and the Auburn offense to try and replicate the formula from the Ole Miss game throughout the rest of the season. Bo Nix has not been comfortable in drop-back passing situations, so those should be minimized. The Tiger’s quarterback is best when getting the ball out quickly and being utilized in the run game, so that should be what the gameplan is built around.
Special teams scare
Special teams have usually been somewhere from solid to spectacular under Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn. However, this week in Oxford, special teams almost (or perhaps should have) cost the Tigers the game. Bad snaps, untimely penalties and a kick that was very close to being touched and fumbled, combined for a day that Auburn special teamers would like to forget.
Auburn is not a good enough team on offense or defense to withstand many special teams performances like the one that just happened at Ole Miss. Those issues must be corrected quickly if the Tigers plan to come up with more SEC wins.
“It’s a tough one to swallow, probably tougher than the other ones because it was right there.” – Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin on the Rebels’ loss to Auburn.
Lane Kiffin discussed several things after losing to Auburn, but this was what rang most true. There may have been missed calls by officials that swung the game away from the Rebels, but there were multiple chances for Ole Miss to win that they did not capitalize on. Ole Miss led by one point and got the ball back with 4:50 remaining in the game. If the Rebels picked up a couple of first downs, they could have drained the clock and won the game.
However, Ole Miss was unable to gain a first down and punted the ball back to Auburn with just over two and half minutes left in the contest. At that point, the Rebels’ defense had an opportunity to stop the Tigers, but Bo Nix found receiver Seth Williams for a 58-yard touchdown pass that would ultimately win the game.
Ole Miss and Auburn looked to be pretty evenly matched throughout the game, but Auburn was able to make enough plays at the end to steal a win on the road.
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