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What to watch: Auburn vs. Ole Miss edition

Auburn travels to Oxford, MS, this week to take on the Ole Miss Rebels (1-3). Ole Miss’ season has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride in the early going. New Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin has brought excitement and a high powered offense that was averaging well over 40 points per game after its first three contests against Florida, Kentucky and Alabama. The issue in those games was that the Rebels’ defense was allowing over 50 points per game.

In Ole Miss’ recent game with Arkansas, the Rebels held the Razorbacks to 33 points (which isn’t great, but was marked improvement). Ole Miss’ problems against the Razorbacks suddenly occurred on the offensive side of the ball when the team managed only 21 points and threw six interceptions.

This week, Ole Miss will try to put together a complete team performance against an Auburn squad that is looking to bounce back from a loss to South Carolina. Today, we look at three areas that will be important in determining the winner in the matchup between Auburn and Ole Miss.

Ole Miss inside receivers
Lane Kiffin has brought a dynamic passing attack to Ole Miss that averages over 330 yards per game led by quarterback Matt Corral. The Rebels do a good job of scheming specific plays and looking to create opportunities for big plays, but they do an even better job of creating good matchups for their best players.

Ole Miss’ two leading receivers are Elijah Moore (who leads the SEC in receptions and yards) and tight end Kenny Yeboah who is a transfer from Temple University. Both of these players are explosive and likely to be deployed in multiple ways throughout the game. However, both of these athletes do a lot of their work over the middle of the field from initial slot or tight alignments.

Expect that to be the case this week as well since Auburn’s defense has given up big plays each week from opposing players lined up in the slot. The Tigers’ defense has struggled to defend dynamic inside receivers over the last couple of years, so they must have a good plan to try and neutralize Moore and Yeboah to slow down the Ole Miss offense.

Depleted Ole Miss defense?
Defense has been a struggle for Ole Miss over the last few seasons. However, this season has been a nightmare defensively as the Rebels are allowing opponents to score an average of 47 points per game so far. Clearly, that indicates some mixture of personnel issues and an inability to find innovative coaching measures to slow down the opposition.

As if it had not been tough enough already, this week Lane Kiffin indicated that multiple offensive players have been moved to defense because of COVID-19 (either infections or contact tracing protocols), affecting that side of the ball.

Auburn’s offense has a great opportunity this week to find its identity and put up points against an Ole Miss defense that was last in many statistical categories even before having COVID-19 issues. The Tigers must find success on offense this week to win the game and gain some confidence for the remainder of the season.

Turnovers
The turnover battle is critical in every game. But, this week is a matchup of teams that combined for nine interceptions thrown last week in losing efforts. Protecting the football will be paramount for both squads if they hope to leave the game victorious.

Ole Miss’ defense has not proven the ability to stop any of its opponents, so Auburn quarterback Bo Nix and his offense cannot give away possessions by turning the ball over. If the Tigers can hold onto the football, that should lead to a productive day on offense.

Similarly, the Rebels’ offense has become one of the most explosive groups in the SEC. If Ole Miss can avoid throwing the ball to the other team, they are likely to score a lot of points every week (including this one).

The game between Auburn and Ole Miss may be a high scoring affair, so neither team can afford to fall behind in the turnover margin and expect to win the game.

Zack Shaw is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News and former walk-on for the Auburn Tigers. You can contact him by email: zack@new-yhn.local or on Twitter @z_m_shaw