I caught some heat from a few folks for picking Texas A&M last week. That’s OK. Glad folks are reading.
It was difficult to go with the Rebels last week not because I didn’t think they were capable but because they were under-achieving.
Defensively, they were a far cry from the confident players we heard in August who said they felt this squad could be better than last year’s that led the nation in scoring defense.
Ole Miss had been good against Alabama. The Tide ran 100 plays, because the Rebels couldn’t get off the field on third downs. Alabama had 503 total yards but had 180 in the fourth quarter when the Rebels were gassed.
Ole Miss was far less effective against Florida and Memphis which both found soft spots in coverage that they really liked and hit those spots repeatedly. That changed last week when the Rebels played more press coverage and had fewer defensive calls.
I knew A&M quarterback Kyle Allen was coming into the game a little banged up. I also knew he had weapons at receiver, and his health, while an important story line in the game, does not take away from the performance of the Rebels’ secondary. There were lots of times that Allen had no where to throw.
So now Ole Miss goes into an important road game with more confidence in the secondary and adding its best defensive player, Robert Nkemdiche, who sat out against the Aggies with headaches after spending the week in concussion protocol.
That would seem to favor the Rebels.
It’s possible they could add defensive back Tony Conner too, though it’s doubtful his conditioning would allow him to play very much if he makes the trip.
The intangibles could favor Auburn. The expectations of August have certainly been readjusted for the Tigers. They were picked to win the SEC West back then.
Now they’re a team trying to get better after the big, tall and athletic quarterback they bought into at the beginning didn’t work out.
Auburn can come into this game and play loose and free, and they’re at home. The Rebels got off to a fast start at Alabama and controlled the game. They got off to a terrible start at Florida and were never competitive. They got off to a fast start at Memphis but when momentum turned could never get it back.
As you can see, only the first plan worked. Ole Miss needs a fast start like it had against Alabama, but there’s something to be said for the middle and the finish too, things it didn’t have at Memphis.
If Ole Miss allows Auburn, an improving team, to hang around it will be a fight, and frankly, Ole Miss hasn’t fought well this season. In the games it’s lost it hasn’t been a threat to win in the final minutes.
Ole Miss needs to win this game in the second and third quarters.
There are matchups that favor the Rebels.
Much was made of the Rebels’ dynamic rushing performance against A&M. It was a shock, because the Rebels have struggled so mightily against SEC teams and it’s toughest non-conference foe, Memphis.
Laremy Tunsil’s return certainly helped, but it can’t be overlooked that A&M was ranked No. 97 in rushing defense.
Well, Auburn is ranked No. 100. Good teams have run on the Tigers. If Ole Miss can duplicate it’s A&M performance that will be a big boost to a possible win.
It also seems as though the Rebels should be able to protect Chad Kelly against an Auburn team that doesn’t make a lot of plays in the backfield.
The big question here is whether the Rebels can put together back-to-back games against talented teams. With apologies to Vanderbilt, they haven’t done that this year.
I don’t put much stock in the Hugh Freeze-Gus Malzahn friendly rivalry. These are two good coaches trying to win. They’re not coaching harder in this game than in other ones.
Traditionally Ole Miss hasn’t played well at Auburn. I don’t put much stock in that. Players aren’t thinking about distant history. They clearly weren’t at Alabama. The more recent history is more important like will Auburn be able to crank up a successful ground game behind Peyton Barber, a one-time Ole Miss commit? Or can Ole Miss get another good game from its secondary and rattle Auburn receivers who have been inconsistent.
Ole Miss’ body of work, its own lack of consistency, suggests it had lay-an-egg potential here.
Maybe Tunsil changes that. Maybe Nkemdiche changes that.
I’m thinking so.
Prediction: Ole Miss 27, Auburn 17