OXFORD – There may never be a good time to face the No. 6 rusher in college football, especially when he’s a 250-pound quarterback who touches the ball every play.
But there could be better times.
After two weeks away, Ole Miss returns to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium Saturday saddled with a two-game losing streak and smarting from what coaches call a sub-standard tackling performance against an average rushing team.
Now they face unbeaten Auburn and Cam Newton.
The Tigers (8-0, 5-0 SEC) are No. 3 in The Associated Press Top 25 but No. 1 in the poll that matters most – the BCS rankings that determine the participants for the national championship game.
Newton is averaging 134.6 yards a game and just ran for 217 against LSU – which had the NCAA’s No. 6 rushing defense going into its 24-17 loss at Auburn.
Meanwhile, Ole Miss allowed 197 rushing yards to an Arkansas team that was getting 113.7 a game. Razorbacks tailback Knile Davis had 176 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries.
“He’s an aggressive runner and a big part of their offense. We helped him look really good with a lot of missed tackles,” Ole Miss defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix said.
It was a disappointing effort for a defense that felt like it was turning a corner after holding the Alabama to 100 rushing yards.
Now the Rebels take their shot at Newton, who has rushed for 603 yards and nine in the last three games.
Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt calls the 65.2-percent passer Cameron a “triple threat” but is most impressed by what he gets done on the ground.
“After the second or third game he really took off in that running game. That’s the kind of weapon and leader you have back there,” Nutt said.
Newton (6-6, 250) has a weight advantage of 38 pounds on Johnny Brown (6-0, 212), the Rebels’ heaviest defensive back. He’s 62 pounds heavier than the Rebels’ biggest corner, Marcus Temple (5-10, 188) and carries at least 20 pounds more than anyone he might face after breaking past the defensive line.
Linebacker D.T. Shackelford says the defensive players were humbled at Arkansas but think they’re close to making corrections.
The focus in stopping Newton is fitting gaps, wrapping up and turning the play back inside.
“You’re not seeing anybody get 15 and 20 play drives on us, it’s one long run, a screen play, a long pass. That’s stuff that can get fixed, but it has to get fixed, because explosion plays can kill you.”
Arkansas’ explosion plays – a 71-yard run by Davis after the Rebels had closed to within seven points and a 97-yard punt return in the first half – were the difference in a 38-24 loss.
“That wasn’t an especially fast back last week, and we had done so good the week before,” Nutt said. “Every time we’ve given up a long run, we’ve had at least three missed tackles.”
Ole Miss-Auburn connections
n There is almost as much drama for the Ole Miss-Auburn game as there was for Ole Miss-Arkansas.
Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn was Nutt’s coordinator at Arkansas in 2006 but left after one season, not necessarily on good terms.
Auburn defensive line coach Tracy Rocker, an All-American as a player at Auburn, coached with Nutt for five seasons at Arkansas and one, 2008, at Ole Miss.
Rocker was replaced at Ole Miss by Terry Price – his cousin – who coached at Auburn from 1999-2008 for former Ole Miss coach Tommy Tuberville.
n Wide receiver Ja-Mes Logan made plays in August practice as a true freshman. He turned heads in the spring as a redshirt freshman.
Now he’s beginning to make plays on game days.
“He’s really stepping up for us, and we need him to keep coming,” Nutt said.
Logan got in front of Arkansas cornerback Darius Winston on a slant for a an 18-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter Saturday, the first touchdown of the day for Ole Miss and the first of Logan’s career.
Not long after afterward came the first of two weather delays.
“That just made me more anxious to get out there,” Logan said.
He had three more catches after the delays, one for 18 and another for 31. He finished with five receptions for 84 yards, both career-highs.
“His route-running has really improved, and he’s making some big catches for us,” Nutt said.
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600
PARRISH ALFORD / NEMS Daily Journal