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What to watch: Auburn vs. Ole Miss

Tonight, Auburn faces off against Ole Miss at home in a battle of top 25 ranked, SEC West division opponents. This game is the first time that both Auburn and Ole Miss have been ranked when playing at Jordan-Hare Stadium in the history of the series.

Ole Miss enters the contest with a 6-1 record and fresh off a 14-point victory over LSU last week. The Rebels are led by head coach Lane Kiffin and possible Heisman frontrunner quarterback Matt Corral.

Ole Miss’ explosive offense leads the SEC in total yards and is second in the league in scoring offense. The Rebels’ defense is improved from last year’s disaster but still ranks near the bottom of the SEC in several categories.

On the other sideline, the Auburn Tigers were on a bye last week, so they are ready for their first action since a 38-23 win at Arkansas two weeks ago.

Auburn hopes to be healthier, sharper and more consistent after having two weeks to get ready for this important SEC matchup.

Take a look at three things that will play key roles in the outcome of Auburn vs. Ole Miss tonight.

Can Auburn contain Corral?

Ole Miss’ combination of head coach Lane Kiffin, offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby and quarterback Matt Corral is the toughest challenge in the league. This group is in their second year together, and the results have been really great.

It was clear last year that Matt Corral is a talented passer and playmaker, but he struggled with consistency and turnovers in his first year as the full-time starting quarterback. Much to his credit, that has changed in 2021.

So far this season, Corral has completed nearly 68% of his passes for 15 touchdowns and just one interception.

If that wasn’t enough, the Rebels quarterback is also their leading rusher, with 474 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. Corral’s athleticism and toughness on the ground put defenses in a bind every down.

Ole Miss’ ability to throw the ball without turning it over, combined with the SEC’s leading rushing attack makes for a difficult night for every opponent.

Auburn’s defense must limit big gains through the air and force Corral to grind out tough yards as a ball carrier to hold the Rebels to a low enough score that their offense can exceed.

4th down

Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin has bought into the idea that teams should attempt more fourth down conversions than most do, and he is all in on that strategy.

The Rebels have attempted twice as many fourth down conversions as any other SEC team, and are converting the chances at a 77% clip.

This strategy significantly changes how opposing defenses play against the Rebels.

Defenses love forcing a “three and out” leading to a punt. However, this week, the Tigers defense must have a completely different mindset, if not strategy.

Auburn must prepare as if they will not force a punt all night against Ole Miss and be ready to make big stops on fourth down in order to get the ball back.

On one hand, it is demoralizing if the defense allows a number of conversions. However, if Auburn can generate turnovers on downs against the Rebels, that will give fuel to the home crowd and confidence to the defense.

The Tigers’ defense has to be successful at getting off the field consistently on third or fourth down to win against Ole Miss.

Auburn’s ground attack

Auburn’s running game has struggled in SEC play. The Tigers average just 3.7 yards per carry in conference games so far this season.

It is critical for the Tigers to be effective on the ground against Ole Miss for two main reasons.

First of all, Auburn needs to protect its defense by controlling time of possession. Ole Miss runs at a fast tempo and is likely to attempt fourth down conversions instead of punts. So, the Auburn defense is going to have to defend a lot of plays.

The Tigers’ offense can help this situation by using the rushing attack to run clock and keep the ball away from the Rebels.

Secondly, the Tigers’ passing game had its best outing of the year against Arkansas two weeks ago. However, until that is proven to be the new normal for Auburn, the Tigers must rely on the run game to generate yards and points.

Tailbacks Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter are dynamic players that Auburn should lean on to wear down the Rebels and provide big plays for the Tigers. If Auburn is able to run the ball with consistency, then they will have a great opportunity to score a huge SEC win.

Zack Shaw is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News and former walk-on for the Auburn Tigers.

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