PARRISH ALFORD: Ole Miss Rebels' road to 8-4 begins with Auburn

By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – Houston Nutt’s streak of 8-4 regular seasons as the Ole Miss coach is in serious jeopardy.
It will require the Rebels winning five straight to close the season, something they did, in fact, in 2008, Nutt’s first year.
I don’t sense the same momentum that started to build in 2008. Included in those five straight wins was a 17-7 home victory against Auburn.
It’s a very different Auburn team that visits this week, No.3 in the AP Top 25, No. 1 where it counts, the BCS rankings that determine the championship game participants.
Beginning that five-game win streak will be a daunting task.
Maybe the best chance for Ole Miss to slow down Auburn quarterback Cam Newton – who has rushed for more than 600 yards and nine touchdowns in the last three games – will be to come out in Louisiana-Monroe jerseys.
My alma mater stopped Newton in a way no other team has, limiting him to minus 11 yards on one carry. It was an accidental sack I suppose, since Newton was instructed not to run in that game to lower the risk of injury. Auburn won 52-3 with his limited assistance.
Newton has been a run threat all season but has really found another gear in the last month.
Ole Miss had shown a lot of improvement in run defense in its last three games, and perhaps those Rebels will resurface. Instead, having watched the Rebels completely flummoxed by what Nutt described as a fairly average player creates a disturbing mental picture of what might happen when Newton gets just a little space.
Auburn has other weapons, but there’s no denying who makes the Tigers go.
Speaking of go.
The Rebels need to do it for more than two quarters. Ole Miss has showed some nice offensive production on the front end of games, building big leads, and last week at Arkansas in comeback mode, but it hasn’t had good production for four quarters.
The Rebels will have to match Newton’s production with their own offense.
Ole Miss quarterback Jeremiah Masoli calls the Auburn game a must-win. He’s only partially right.
It’s a must-win if the Rebels are trying to rise to a meaningful bowl game, but this team needs to think about finding six wins and bowl eligibility period.
To that end, there are three games Ole Miss can’t lose – Louisiana-Lafayette at home, at Tennessee and at home against rival Mississippi State. That’s the path to minimal postseason status, and it isn’t that far-fetched.
But it’s not the path many envisioned upon Masoli’s arrival. Hope isn’t lost, but retrieving that level of expectation will require a duplicate effort of the 2008 streak.
It also means a defense that was blocked and beaten by Arkansas tailback Knile Davis has to find itself. After a very poor tackling effort, the Rebels must slow down the Heisman Trophy frontrunner and an Auburn offense that runs the football because that’s what it does, not as an afterthought.
Parrish Alford (parrish.alford@djournal.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily about Ole Miss athletics at NEMS360.com.