By Parrish Alford
AUBURN, Ala. – Yes, the good friends ran similar offenses. Too similar for Ole Miss.
Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall, a first-year junior college transfer who won the starting job without the benefit of spring drills, gave the Rebels a dose of the read-option offense and totaled 140 yards and two touchdowns on the ground as Auburn coach Gus Malzahn watched his team win 30-22 Saturday night before a Jordan-Hare Stadium crowd of 86,504.
It was his first game against good friend Hugh Freeze.
The Tigers also sacked Bo Wallace six times and had 14 tackles for loss.
Auburn rushed for 282 yards and averaged 5.9 yards per carry.
Marshall had 148 rushing yards through the first four games. Auburn had shown some read-option before Saturday night but not nearly as much, and Marshall had often given up the football.
“We hadn’t seen it as much as we did tonight, but we knew it could be there, and we prepared for it,” Freeze said.
Ole Miss (3-2, 1-2 SEC) played without defensive end C.J. Johnson, who missed the week of practice with a sprained ankle.
The vertical passing game returned for the Rebels, but yielded mixed results in the face of Auburn’s pressure. Wallace didn’t have much to say about the pressure he faced.
“I know they weren’t pressing a lot. We’ll have to go look at the film and see what happened,” he said.
The best results came late and gave Ole Miss a chance to win.
Wallace passed 49 yards to Donte Moncrief for the Rebels’ first touchdown to make it 27-16 with 5 minutes, 55 seconds left in the third quarter.
With fourth-quarter minutes ticking away, Wallace found Moncrief for 39 yards to the Auburn 13, and the two teamed up on the next play. Moncrief took a short pass and got good blocking on the edge from Evan Swindall and Justin Bell to get to the end zone.
The try for two failed, but it was a 27-22 game with 8:29 remaining.
Ole Miss had two chances to drive for a go-ahead touchdown, the first one the more realistic.
The Rebels could have taken the lead after Cody Prewitt stripped the ball from Auburn running back Cameron Artis-Payne and Isaac Gross recovered, but on third-and-7 from the Ole Miss 43, Wallace’s pass was intercepted by Ryan Smith at mid-field.
“It was very frustrating. The defense gave us a lot of opportunities, and we didn’t capitalize on them,” Wallace said.
It was the second interception of the night for Wallace, who did not throw any in the first four games and began the game with a streak of 133 throws without a pick-off.
He finished 25-for-48 passing for 336 yards and two touchdowns, but the Rebels rushed for just 124 yards, an average of 3.2 per carry.
Wallace’s first interception – throwing for Laquon Treadwell with a swing pass to the left – was returned 78 yards for a touchdown by Robenson Therezie to give Auburn a 13-3 lead with 1:39 left in the first.
Marshall had already driven the Tigers 80 yards to score on a 1-yard run by Tre Mason.
The Rebels’ first nine points came on Andrew Ritter field goals of 42, 44 and 22 yards.
“We lost a bunch of one-on-ones. When you feel you have to abandon the run they can tee off.,” Freeze said.
We got beat quite a few times, not just beat but beat quick off the ball when there’s not much you can do with the football.”