AUBURN, Ala. — Gene Chizik was as confident as anyone that his Auburn Tigers would respond Saturday against Ole Miss and put an end to a skid that was beginning to bear an eerie resemblance to last season’s second-half slide.
A gritty 33-20 upset against No. 24 Ole Miss at Jordan-Hare Stadium only reassured that belief.
“They willed that win,” Chizik said. “It doesn’t surprise anybody in our locker room that that’s who they are. I thought tonight proved to a lot of people that we were going to contend and fight.”
Auburn (6-3, 3-3 SEC) scored 23 points in a roller-coaster third quarter, making plays in all phases of the game to halt a three-game losing streak. It was the Tigers’ sixth victory, guaranteeing them bowl eligibility after missing out on the postseason last year for the first time in nearly a decade.
“We could have gone in the tank and gotten down on ourselves,” said running back Ben Tate, who ran for 144 yards. “We didn’t. We led ourselves to this win. This is a big deal for us today.”
Here are some quick notes and quotes from the game …
- First things first. Safety Zac Etheridge sounds like he’s doing OK after suffering a neck injury and being carted off the field in the first quarter. Chizik said he’ll know more about Etheridge’s condition tomorrow, but early reports are that he has feeling in all of his extremities. “You just hope and pray that he’s OK,” defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. “That’s the most important thing. That’s more important than a football game.” Chizik added: “He is one tough, tough guy. He will rebound.”
- A lot of redemption out there today:
- Gus Malzahn showed his former employer, Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt, that his offense can work in the SEC, as Auburn broke out of a three-game funk with 401 yards, seven more than Nutt’s Rebels. “I really believe in this offense and knew they were capable of what we did today,” Malzahn said.
- Quarterback Chris Todd, who got a vote of confidence as the starter after three sub-par games, answered his critics with a 12-for-22, 212-yard day that included one touchdown pass. He connected with receiver Terrell Zachery on two deep passes, a component that had been lacking from the offense the last few weeks. “That’s what we’ve been waiting on for the last three weeks,” Tate said. “You can run the ball, pound it, pound it, pound it. That doesn’t matter. You need the wide receivers. Our offense is at its best when they’re making plays.”
- Auburn’s much-maligned defense stood tall against a potent group from Ole Miss (5-3, 2-3 SEC), harassing quarterback Jevan Snead, forcing three turnovers and scoring nine points. Snead, who had thrown for 572 yards and five touchdowns the previous two weeks, was 16-for-35 for 175 yards with two picks Saturday. “As a unit, as an overall defense, I think this is the best game we’ve played all year,” defensive end Antonio Coleman said.
- Tate’s 144-yard rushing day put him among some of Auburn’s greats, as he became the fifth player in school history to top 3,000 career rushing yards. Tate’s total of 3,026 trails only Bo Jackson (4,303), Carnell Williams (3,831), James Brooks (3,523) and Joe Cribbs (3,368). “It was just another day at the office,” Tate said. “I try to come out and run hard week in and week out — no matter what the score is. I just love the game of football and I try to play it as hard as I can on every play. You never know when it’ll be over.”
- Antonio Coleman had a huge day, with four tackles for a loss, two sacks and four quarterback hurries. “It’s been a long time coming,” said Coleman, who had only 3½ sacks the first eight games while battling through wrist and leg injuries. “I just got out there and had fun and just flew around and made plays.”
- Walt McFadden got in on the fun with two interceptions, one he returned 29 yards for a touchdown. He has three picks this year and six for his career. “There is nobody on a football team that deserves good things to happen to him (more than Walt),” Chizik said. “He makes them happen. … I was just proud to see him get two clutch ones today.”
- The most points Ole Miss had allowed this year was 22. Auburn scored 23 in the third quarter.
- McFadden summed up the day with this quote: ‘We needed this. Maybe some of us were feeling sorry for ourselves. Today we showed that we believe in each other, we know we can play. This is not last year. We’re not fixing to give up, we’re not going to point fingers, we’re not fixing to say we need a new quarterback, we need a new running back. We’re not fixing to say anything. We’re just going to go out every week and play how we always play.”
- Auburn, as mentioned before, is bowl eligible with six victories. “Obviously, it was a great feeling,” Chizik said. “We have a lot of football left to play. So, we are going to try to take everything one week at a time, and try to win a game. Obviously, that’s a big deal for us and is something that will excite our fans as well as our coaches and players. We just have to take it week by week and keep winning.”