This will have to be shorter than usual this week because I have to get on the road to Tupelo pretty soon. I’ve been told it’s the birthplace of Elvis, although I can’t imagine myself taking extra time to go find that place.
Anyway, on to the game, which has some pretty big implications. If Auburn loses (and Vegas has the Tigers as a 6.5-point underdog), making a bowl game is going to be pretty tough. As I wrote in tomorrow’s game advance, Amen Corner is tougher than usual this year, with Georgia ranked No. 6 and Alabama No. 2. Assuming a win against FCS Tennessee-Martin next week and losses against the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide — not a stretch of the imagination, by the way — Auburn’s bowl eligibility hinges on Saturday’s game.
No pressure, though.
Let’s (briefly) break this thing down, shall we?
- Say what you will about the Ed Orgeron era — which had to have topped out when he ripped his shirt off in that first team meeting, didn’t it? — but he didn’t leave Ole Miss’ cupboard bare. If there’s one thing Orgeron could do, it was recruit. And now with a coach like Houston Nutt who knows how to do a thing or two with some talent, the Rebels are definitely on the rise. A good Ole Miss team and an Alabama squad that’s as good as it has been in almost 20 years certainly makes the SEC West much more formidable. Once Nutt and Arkansas’ Bobby Petrino get things situated, that’s going to be one tough division.
- Here’s a stat that may be meaningless: Auburn is 8-1 all-time in Oxford, having not lost there since 1992. I seem to remember fairly similar statements about the Tigers traveling to Vanderbilt, right?
- Got an e-mail from Skip Hansberger, a reporter from the Citizen of East Alabama, the paper in Phenix City, asking about Auburn’s preference for wearing all-white shoes and socks this year. Since Skip is one of this blog’s few loyal readers who is not a) my girlfriend, b) one of my close friends or c) a member of my immediate family, I feel obliged to put his thought out there:
“Everyone talks about how successful Auburn is when they wear the white uniforms. But something that might be a little more interesting is to find out how the Auburn football team fares while wearing white SHOES. If I remember correctly, Auburn has worn black shoes for both home and away games for at least the last five seasons, maybe even more. I know they wore white shoes during the 2001 season and maybe ’99 through ’02 as well.”
Admittedly, my knowledge of Auburn’s sartorial statements are extremely limited having been on the beat for, oh, a month and a half now. I do know that Tommy Tuberville said on his radio show last night that the players wanted to wear all-white shoes and socks this year because it made them feel like they were faster (hey, whatever convinces you). So I’ll put this out there to anyone in the know — what is the history of Auburn’s color preference for shoes and socks? Give me a good response and I’ll give you a shout-out in the blog.
- As a bonus question, what does everyone out there prefer with Auburn’s road unis — white or black shoes?
- Well, back to the game. There’s been a lot of talk about finishing games off this week, which there should be, considering Auburn has led at halftime in every game this year, blowing double-digit leads in all four losses. What’s to blame for this? Here are a couple ideas
- The defense lacks depth, something that was very noticeable in the second half of the West Virginia game, when the Tigers missed all sorts of tackles and let Noel Devine run wild.
- The offense doesn’t know how to adjust. Opposing defenses have obviously adjusted to what Auburn does in the first half, stacking eight or nine guys in the box and daring the Tigers to beat them in the air. Auburn, with de facto offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger, in actuality a tight ends coach, and Tuberville, a defensive coach by trade, aren’t capable of making the necessary adjustments. It’s fairly simple to call all running plays in the first half. When you have to switch up what you’re doing is when you need a smart, trained offensive mind who can keep defenses on their heels. That’s why you hire and — perhaps more to the point — why you keep coordinators.
- Auburn better hope CB Jerraud Powers (hamstring) can play and isn’t limited too much. The Tigers can barely field a nickel package as it is. Not a good thing when you’re going against a quarterback like Jevan Snead, who has thrown as many touchdowns this season as Florida’s Tim Tebow and Georgia’s Matthew Stafford.
Prediction time: This is a tough one. While it seems like Auburn would be especially motivated because its bowl life is basically on the line, you would have thought that last week and the week before and the week before, when the Tigers’ chances at staying near the top of the SEC were fading. Truthfully, I don’t know what to expect out of Auburn. The Tigers can look like the best team on the field (witness the first quarter at Vanderbilt and the first 20 minutes at West Virginia), and they can look like the most clueless team in the SEC at other times. Auburn’s big problems are with its depth in the secondary and its place-kicking game. Those are two pretty big holes to have if you’re expecting a close game.
As a result, I’ll go with Ole Miss 23, Auburn 17.