Auburn travels to Ole Miss today for their second consecutive SEC road game in 2022. The Tigers are coming off a lopsided loss to Georgia, while the Rebels are 6-0 and ranked No. 9 in the country.
Auburn football’s season, and potentially its leadership, is teetering on the edge of a cliff and needs a significant turnaround to avoid disaster.
Can Auburn do that? Today’s game in Oxford, Miss. will go a long way in determining the answer to that question.
Take a look at three things that will play a key role in the outcome of the matchup between Auburn and Ole Miss.
Auburn has really struggled with turning the ball over this season. The Tigers have given the ball away 13 times in six games. This issue is compounded by the fact that Auburn has only managed to create four takeaways of their own in 2022.
The turnover margin of -9 leaves Auburn ranked 128th in the country out of 131 teams. It has been proven time and again that this group of Tigers cannot overcome giving the ball away and at the same time providing good field position to the opponent.
In fact, Auburn’s only win against a Power 5 team this year came against Missouri when the Tigers avoided turning the ball over and forced two turnovers from the opponent.
Auburn must find a way to protect the football and avoid turning it over if the Tigers hope to win in Oxford.
This offense is simply not good enough to overcome giving the ball away. The Tigers must be content to grind the game down and try to work in favorable field position in order to score an upset against Ole Miss.
Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin has the reputation of being a quarterback whisperer and passing game savant.
Both of those things are true. But in his third year in Oxford, Kiffin’s offense has transformed into one of the best rushing offenses in the SEC.
The Rebels running game is led by two talented tailbacks that help Ole Miss wear down opponents. One is former five-star recruit Zach Evans, and the other runner is Pike Road’s own Quinshon Judkins.
These two players power a running game that is second in the SEC in rushing yards per game and is tied for first in the country in rushing touchdowns, with 21 on the season. Unfortunately for Auburn, the Tigers came into the season hoping to lean on its own rushing game, but has been completely unable to do so against real competition.
Against Power 5 teams, Auburn is averaging under 100 yards per game on the ground and has just two rushing touchdowns in four games.
The Tigers must find a way to slow down the Rebels’ ground game and jumpstart a rushing attack of their own in order to play a competitive game today.
Ole Miss has everything to play for today. The Rebels are 6-0, ranked in the Top 10, and still hopeful about what the 2022 season could deliver to Oxford. The visiting Auburn Tigers have a much different set of circumstances at the moment.
Auburn has already endured two losses of roughly 30 points and blew a double-digit lead at home in a loss to LSU on separate occasions.
The morale for the Tigers’ fan base is certainly low, but the players must find a way to be determined, focused and disciplined today on the road in order to have a chance. It is often challenging for teams to play with great determination once the lure of a championship season has been taken away.
Auburn’s leadership must cultivate an environment within the locker room that promotes the ideal of playing for pride, and one another, or the Tigers’ trip to Ole Miss will have no hope of being successful.
Zack Shaw is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News and former walk-on for the Auburn Tigers.