Notes and thoughts from Ole Miss’ 33-20 loss at Auburn …
It’s not beyond comprehension that an Auburn offense that had had success earlier this season could circle the wagons and get its act together for a complete performance, and that’s what the Tigers had against Ole Miss.
Auburn rushed for 175 yards and hit some big plays in the passing game, two of them for over 40 yards, to pass for 226, this from a team that hadn’t reached 100 yards passing in its two previous games.
Big plays were numerous. Subtract Ben Tate’s 53-yard touchdown run, and he was under 100 on the day, and the Tigers combined were at 122.
But you can’t subtract big plays, and the Rebels gave up big gains repeatedly.
Motion, misdirection and fakes from Gus Malzahn’s offense made the Rebels play slower. They didn’t get any meaningful pass rush or sack Auburn quarterback Chris Todd until the game was pretty much decided.
But while the Auburn offense was better than it was through the Tigers’ three-game losing streak, the Auburn offense didn’t win the game.
It was the Tigers’ defense and their ability to limit damage from Ole Miss to one player that made the Rebels a loser.
This has not been a great Auburn defense this year. Auburn had trouble with Dexter McCluster, but that was it. Tigers defensive end Antonio Coleman exposed left tackle Bradley Sowell in pass rushing situations. Coleman led a pressure parade against Jevan Snead that had Snead complete less than 50 percent, as Snead has done several times this season.
Snead was able to get the ball to Shay Hodge seven times, and Hodge had 105 receiving yards, but it was all between the 20s. No play the two combined on impacted a touchdown drive.
Hodge is a dependable receiver, but by becoming so comfortable with Hodge the Rebels haven’t developed other weapons in a talented group. Receivers need to do a better job of shaking free of coverage, but there seems to be no real attempt to involve Lionel Breaux, Markeith Summers or Pat Patterson, all of whom had no catches on the plains.
Snead was throwing for Summers, but the pass was short and Summers made a diving go for it when the ball was tipped, and Walter McFadden made the pick for an easy touchdown return.
Another concern in this offense is the disappearance of Brandon Bolden as a rushing option. I have written that a smaller, quicker back – like McCluster – has a better chance for success behind this offensive line. But either Bolden is missing holes or is too late choosing holes. Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt talked about the need for Bolden to get his pad level lower. Whatever the case, you can’t have your starting tailback – a power guy by trade – limited to 10 yards on five carries.
Rodney Scott hit holes quicker yesterday and finished with 15 yards on three carries. Scott’s role may need to increase as Enrique Davis remains sidelined, but the Rebels need to get something from the line of scrimmage from someone other than McCluster.
Subtract McCluster’s 79-yard run, and he still averaged 5.1 yards a carry with 107 yards on 21 attempts.
He is doing it all for Ole Miss right now, and that’s just not enough.
Better defenses are ahead in the looming three-game SEC stretch. The Rebels have to win one more SEC game – plus next week’s non-conference game with Northern Arizona – to become bowl eligible, and you can’t look at Tennessee, LSU or Mississippi State and say any one of them is a given.
Statistically, all three are better than the Auburn defense that limited the Rebels to one long drive and one long McCluster run.
Losing to Auburn is one thing, but it’s the way this team lost … being out-played in all three phases.
I’m willing to give the defense more of a pass, because it’s been there for this team all season and played well much of yesterday’s game except for the big plays.
The offense, though, has struggled before. It had built some momentum in two games, but that’s gone now.
They’ve been up, and they’ve been down this season. If the Rebels are going to make a bowl game for a second straight season they’re going to have to take the “up” elevator another couple of times against some stout defenses in the coming weeks.