Day After Observations

Notes and thoughts from Ole Miss’ 27-19 win at Auburn …

It was just the third win for Ole Miss at Auburn in the history of the series. I don’t get caught up in that kind of history a lot.

Coaches say every team is different. That’s mostly true. Sometimes injuries, departures or coaching transitions linger enough to impact the next year. Sometimes a team that’s bad one year needs more than the next year to recover.

I saw Ole Miss win at Auburn in 2003, and I’ve seen it take some teams there that just weren’t very good.

That wasn’t the case this season. Auburn clearly has some issues but, as I thought, was better yesterday than at the beginning of the season.

They made the decision to move away from big and athletic Jeremy Johnson at quarterback. Gus Malzahn could have turned back to Johnson Saturday as his starter Sean White was a little banged up with a knee injury going into the game. We were told before the game that White might not play, but he played the whole game.

Johnson makes a few cameo appearances here and there. Maybe he’ll reappear in a quarterback competition down the road, but right now Malzahn appears committed to White.

Auburn also added its best defensive player back to the lineup in end Carl Lawson. He had a tackle and three quarterback pressures, but you could see what his quickness and spirit mean to that team. You could also see Laremy Tunsil thinking about Lawson’s quickness with a couple of false starts.

That was a big pick-up for an Auburn defense that was giving up 199.9 yards a game, No. 100 nationally.

Ole Miss was able to successfully run the ball for a second straight week, finishing with 156 yards and averaging 4.0 per carry.

Akeem Judd had his best game of the year averaging 6.8 yards on eight carries, one of those a 25-yard touchdown. Judd clearly had the hot hand and got the carries that would otherwise have gone to Jordan Wilkins. We may be seeing a transition at No. 2 running back, but we’ll see a transition back if Judd doesn’t keep up the pace.

It’s also not a coincidence that Ole Miss’ miniature rushing revival coincides with the return of Laremy Tunsil.

It’s not only about Tunsil. As I have pointed out before, Ole Miss had Tunsil at left tackle and Fahn Cooper at right last year and was still a very average rushing team. It’s clear, however, how much better offensively Ole Miss is with Laremy Tunsil.

It’s also important to note that Ole Miss’ last two games have been against teams that ranked No. 97 in run defense in Texas A&M and than Auburn’s No. 100.

It will be a great challenge to run the ball this week against Arkansas, a physical defensive front that’s giving up just 114 rushing yards a game, fourth in the SEC and No. 18 in America.

Chad Kelly was 33-for-51 passing against Auburn, that’s a 65 percent completion rate, and that came with a less than average day for receivers not named Laquon Treadwell.

Damore’ea Stringfellow fellow had eight catches – five in the first half – for 71 yards. It was a very good game for Stringfellow, but he also didn’t complete a catch down field in the first half and dropped a screen pass in the third quarter. Jaylen Walton followed on the next play with another dropped screen pass. A drive stalled, and Ole Miss had to settle for a field goal in the red zone.

Quincy Adeboyejo also dropped a screen pass and allowed a pass deep down the middle to be stripped from him when he appeared to have solid possession. That drive stalled too.

The receiver who did have a big day was named Treadwell. He was targeted seven times and caught seven passes for 114 yards including the massive 21-yard catch on a fade for a touchdown with a little more than 10 minutes to play.

It was clearly established by then that Auburn was struggling to reach the end zone. Beyond one big play Auburn was limited to four field goals.

Treadwell’s catch gave the Rebels a lead of more than two field goals with the clock running down.

The Rebels were strong defensively for a second straight week, but the big plays allowed are a concern. Auburn’s receivers, a group that had been struggling going into the game, repeatedly got open too many times behind the Ole Miss secondary.

Those Ole Miss defensive backs were in position a lot of the time and limited White to a completion percentage of just 40.6.

However, those completions gained 23.2 yards on average. This week the Rebels face a more experienced quarterback in Arkansas’ Brandon Allen who is third in the SEC in pass efficiency with a 151.2 rating.

Amid the drops Kelly passed for 381 yards and two touchdowns but also threw two interceptions. It’s a shame that one of them counts on his stat line since the pass hit Evan Engram right in the hands then bounced off his head and to the defender.

Kelly, though, continues to throw interceptions. He hasn’t been turnover-free since Alabama in Week 3, and the Auburn game was his third straight with multiple picks.

Because he makes the deep ball such a weapon in the Ole Miss passing game – even with people like Derrick Jones who was basically invisible before catching a 47-yard touchdown against Auburn – Kelly doesn’t catch the heat for his interceptions that Bo Wallace. Kelly continues to throw touchdown passes, and has 20 of those to go along with his 12 interceptions this season.

Speaking of Alabama, the Rebels clearly haven’t forgotten that monumental win. As Saturday’s celebration moved from the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium and into the locker room we were positioned in an interview room on the other side of the wall. We could hear the celebration indoors, and we could hear Ole Miss players, several, chanting Alabama state champs.

That is worth chanting about for a program that had a combined three road wins against Alabama and Auburn before this season. Now it has five.

The greater joy on Saturday came from the fact that for another week Ole Miss remains in control of its destiny in the SEC race.

Hopefully the Rebels can also celebrate that fact after the Arkansas game.

Denham Springs, La., native, Mississippian since 1989 with a stop in Meridian before arriving in Tupelo. Daily Journal beat writer since 1996, covering Ole Miss since 2002. Proud Northeast Louisiana alum. Follow me on Twitter @parrishalford and listen to John Davis and myself daily with The Ole Miss Beat on Rebel Sports Radio.

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