AUBURN, Ala. – Treat. Definitely a treat for Gus Malzhan.
Auburn’s struggling offense gave its coordinator a 401-yard game in a 33-20 win over No. 24 Ole Miss before 84,756 fans at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Halloween.
Auburn was held to less than 200 yards in a 31-10 loss at LSU last week and hadn’t reached 100 yards passing in its last two games.
But the Tigers got open for big plays against an Ole Miss secondary that came into the game ranked No. 3 in the nation in pass defense efficiency.
Malzahn left Arkansas with a bad taste in his mouth in 2006 after one season as coordinator for then-Razorbacks coach Houston Nutt. Facing Nutt for the first time in a college game, his play-calling twice sucked in Ole Miss defenders, as Auburn quarterbacks Chris Todd and Kodi Burns threw touchdown passes of 28 and 14 yards.
The Tigers added a 53-yard touchdown run by Ben Tate and a 29-yard interception return by Walter McFadden en route to a 31-7 lead in the middle of the third quarter.
Ole Miss players said the motion and misdirection of Malzahn’s offense helped to slow their pass rush against Todd, who was sacked three times but not once until 5 minutes, 6 seconds remained in the third quarter.
“We practiced all week against trick plays,” defensive end Kentrell Lockett said. “We couldn’t just pin our ears back and rush. They kept us on our heels and kind of in between with trick plays.”
With four games remaining Ole Miss (5-3, 2-3 SEC) needs two more wins to qualify for a bowl game. Six would qualify most seasons, but the Rebels need seven, because they have two lower-division teams on the schedule, one of them next weekend’s home game against Northern Arizona.
Malzahn found no special significance in beating Nutt.
“There’s not. We’re the Auburn Tigers, and we were needing a win desperately.”
Big third quarter
Auburn (6-3, 3-3 SEC) scored more in the third quarter, 23 points, than any team has scored this season against Ole Miss, which began the game giving up just 13.6 points a game, ninth in the nation.
“It wasn’t what we’d seen the last two weeks on film. They executed today. They did a good job,” Nutt said.
While Todd was protected most of the game, Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead had a rougher go of things.
He was sacked three times, hurried others, and didn’t handle the pressure well, completing 16-of-35 passes for 175 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.
McFadden’s pick was made possible when Markeith Summers dove to try and catch an under-thrown pass. Snead’s second interception, also by McFadden, came after the Rebels had reached the Auburn 23 with less than 3 minutes left in the game.
Auburn executed on defense too. The Rebels got 94 yards on their first drive, which took 4:29 and ended with a 7-yard scoring pass from Snead to fullback Andy Hartmann. They got 79 more on a Dexter McCluster touchdown run in the third quarter. For the remaining 55-some odd minutes Ole Miss netted 221 yards.
The Rebels’ other touchdown came on an 82-yard kick return by Jesse Grandy.
After the Rebels’ opening drive, Auburn got on the board on its first possession after a screen left and a screen right resulted in 35 yards. The drive stalled, and kicker Wes Byrum hit from 36 yards.
The Ole Miss defense kept the Tigers in check most of the first half, including stopping Tate for no gain on third and fourth downs just a yard from the first down marker.
It looked like the Rebels might hold Auburn on third-and-2 from the 18, but Todd hit Terrell Zachery for a 42-yard gain.
Two plays later Todd hit Darvin Adams for a 28-yard touchdown. The closest defender was Cassius Vaughn, a good 10 yards away, as Auburn took a 10-7 lead with 5:23 left in the half.
Auburn went up 17-7 when Burns, from the wildcat formation, passed 14 yards to tight end Tommy Trott with 11:37 left in the third. Trott was wide open after cornerback Cassius Vaughn bit on a run fake.
The game unraveled quickly for Ole Miss at that point, as McFadden scored with his first pick, and Tate got free on the left side.
“You hate giving up the cheap ones like we did. I thought with Grandy’s kick return we were back in it,” Nutt said. “We had opportunities, and we stopped ourselves. We can’t have turnovers.”
Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal