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October 31, 2009

Final: Auburn 33, Ole Miss 20

I’ll be back with more later, but here’s how tomorrow’s story starts:

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.”

Auburn-Ole Miss pre-game

Greetings from a soggy Jordan-Hare Stadium, where, as you can see, the Navy Nightmare promotion isn’t exactly going to plan.

I’ll be updating information until the game. We just got a lineup update sheet. There are no changes for Auburn.

So I guess I’ll straight to the rundown of facts you need to know:

  • Auburn leads the series 24-9 and is 11-2 in games at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
  • The Tigers are still seventh nationally in rushing offense (230.4 ypg), 19th in total offense (430.9) and tied for 26th in scoring offense (31.8). You wouldn’t have guessed it after the last three games, however.
  • Auburn has allowed only nine sacks in eight games. That’s tied for 20th nationally.
  • Ole Miss has 21 sacks this year. That’s second in the SEC.
  • Ben Tate is 11th nationally in rushing (115.4 ypg), with five 100-yard games to his credit this season. He ranks fifth in school history with 2,882 rushing yards and needs 77 more to be the 18th player in Auburn history to reach 1,000 yards in a season.
  • Despite underachieving slightly, Ole Miss (5-2) is off to its best start since 2003.
  • The Rebels are averaging 527.0 yards their last two games.
  • Ole Miss is third in the nation in pass defense efficiency and ninth in scoring (13.6 ppg). It’s also 20th in overall defense (300.0 ypg).

10:50 update: DL Zach Clayton (ankle) is not dressed. Neither is DE Nosa Eguae. I would imagine he is a redshirt guy at this point.

10:57 update: It’s raining. I know this because CCR’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” is playing. Also, there’s a drizzle out there. The radar makes it seem like this won’t last long, though.

Tigers wary of underrated Ole Miss defense

Here’s how my advance for today’s Auburn-Ole Miss game starts:

AUBURN, Ala. — Catch an Ole Miss highlight sometime, and it’s sure to feature plenty of quarterback Jevan Snead and running back Dexter McCluster, two of the better offensive players in the conference.

But don’t sleep on the Rebels’ defense, Auburn’s coaches warn. It might be the best one the Tigers have played this season.

“It’s comparable to LSU, but I think they may be a little more athletic,” said running backs coach Curtis Luper, lofty praise considering it comes a week after LSU held Auburn to season lows in points (10) and yards (193).

As if the Tigers (5-3, 2-3 SEC) don’t have enough to worry about today, trying to contain Snead and McCluster — Snead had 332 passing yards and two touchdowns last week against Arkansas; McCluster broke out for 260 combined yards and a score — the Tigers’ suddenly clueless offense will have to find ways to move the ball against one of the stingiest defenses in the country.

No. 24 Ole Miss (5-2, 2-2) quietly has put up stats comparable to SEC powerhouse defenses like Florida, Alabama and LSU.

The Rebels are ninth nationally in scoring defense (13.6 ppg) and 20th in yards allowed (300.0 ypg). A secondary that was expected to struggle has instead been a strength, giving up 166.9 yards per game, a mark that ranks 14th in the country.

Read the rest here. And follow the blog on Twitter to get updates leading up to today’s game.

October 30, 2009

Auburn-Ole Miss breakdown

I’ll be at a high-stakes showdown between Carver and LaGrange tonight in Columbus, Ga., but I know everyone needs their Auburn fix. So here is tomorrow’s breakdown:

No. 24 Ole Miss (5-2, 2-2 SEC) at Auburn (5-3, 2-3 SEC)

  • Where: Auburn, Ala.
  • When: 12:21 p.m. ET, SEC Network
  • Last meeting: Ole Miss 17, Auburn 7, Nov. 1, 2008, in Oxford, Miss.

Offense:

Ole Miss: Running back Dexter McCluster came to life last week against Arkansas, becoming the first Rebel in the modern era to top 100 rushing yards and 100 receiving yards in the same game. Quarterback Jevan Snead has 572 passing yards and five touchdown passes the last two weeks, suggesting he’s over his early-season struggles.

Auburn: The Tigers hit new lows last week at LSU, finishing with 10 points and only 193 yards of total offense. Quarterback Chris Todd might be making his last stand. Since starting the season on fire, the senior has thrown for only 260 yards the last three games, with no touchdowns and two interceptions.

EDGE: Ole Miss

Defense:

Ole Miss: Overshadowed by the Rebels’ offensive talents is a defense that is ninth nationally in points allowed (13.6 ppg) and 20th in yards allowed (300.0 ypg). Defensive end Kentrell Lockett and linebacker Patrick Trahan, a former Auburn player, are tied for the team lead with four sacks apiece. Ole Miss has 21 as a team, second in the SEC.

Auburn: The Tigers shored up their run defense at LSU, giving up just 122 yards. But the pass defense was suspect, allowing 254 yards as quarterback Jordan Jefferson had a career-best effort. Auburn is hurting on the turnover front. The Tigers have forced only two turnovers the last three games after forcing 13 the first five games.

EDGE: Ole Miss

Special teams:

Ole Miss: Joshua Shene is the only SEC kicker without a miss this season, perfect on eight attempts. Ole Miss is solid across the board on special teams, ranking third in the league on kick returns, sixth on punt returns and fourth in punting.

Auburn: The Tigers’ punt returner position might be open again after Philip Pierre-Louis muffed a punt last week at LSU. Anthony Gulley, Quindarius Carr and Travante Stallworth all remain options. Auburn is lagging in the return game, 11th in the SEC at taking back both punts (3.8 yards per return) and kicks (21.2).

EDGE: Ole Miss

Prediction: The edges don’t lie. The Rebels are simply a better football team right now. And there’s no way in good conscience I can pick a team that seems to be slumping to new lows against a team that appears to be hitting on all cylinders. I think Auburn finds it very difficult to move the ball against Ole Miss’ defense. And if that means some early struggles, it would not surprise me if Neil Caudle took the field in relief of Todd. Final score: Ole Miss 27, Auburn 20.

The SEC strikes back at complaining coaches

The SEC’s had enough of the whining about the officials. The latest decree aims to end the endless complaining by coaches about bad calls, which seem to increase by the week. Should we just call this the “Kiffin Rule” from now on?

This release just came across the e-mail today:

PENALTIES FOR SEC BYLAW 10.5.4 VIOLATIONS STRENGTHENED

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (Oct. 30, 2009) – In a unanimous vote of the Southeastern Conference’s Athletic Directors and with the full support of the Conference’s twelve Presidents and Chancellors, all violations of SEC Bylaw 10.5.4 will be enforced by suspensions and fines, effective immediately.

The length of the suspension and the amount of the fine will be at the discretion of the Commissioner.

SEC Bylaw 10.5.4 requires that coaches, assistant coaches, players, support personnel and others associated with the institution’s athletics program refrain from public criticism of officials.

Head coaches are advised that suspensions and fines for violations of Bylaw 10.5.4 made by assistant coaches or other support personnel will be enforced against the head coach.

“There are proper channels available for head coaches to use when communicating officiating concerns to the Conference office,” said SEC Commissioner Mike Slive.

As is customary practice, the conference office will continue to address reviews of officiating calls on specific plays with each institution’s head coach and no public comments will be made concerning these communications.

Friday links (10/30)

It’s the last links of the week, so let’s not waste any time and get right to them:

  • Little Rock, Ark., running back Michael Dyer‘s commitment to Auburn sounds all but official according to this report at VYPE.com. He’s going to announce next Friday. But what does that really mean for the five-star recruit? Check out this passage:
  • Dyer, who broke the state’s all-time rushing record last week, has ranked Auburn at the top of his list since last summer. However, the 5-foot-9, 205-pounder said he still plans take official visits to Arkansas, Ole Miss, Tennessee and LSU following the season. He will also visit Auburn, rounding out his five official visits. “If a coach wants me to come on a visit, I will,” Dyer said. “I’m going to commit to Auburn, but the recruiting process will continue.”
  • ESPN’s Wright Thompson has a lengthy piece about former LSU Hall of Famer Billy Cannon, who hit his high with a Halloween punt return for a touchdown against Ole Miss 50 years ago and his low many years later he was convicted in a money counterfeiting ring.
  • Jack-o-lantern: Auburn quarterback Chris Todd could use a light going off in his head, and for that matter, so could the entire Auburn offense after a brutal last three weeks. The Tigers started the season as one of the most balanced offenses in the league. They’ve looked like one of the worst during their three-game losing streak.”
  • Dave Kindred writes that gambling has no place in sports or in a newspaper. Pardon me, but this is just a dumb argument. The vast betting system set up in this country actually prevents shady dealings behind the scenes. If something’s afoot in a game (say, too many bettors are waging on one side), Vegas knows it and exposes it. Take that away and it pushes it back into the shadows, where nobody knows what’s going on. And that could lead to the competitive integrity of sports being challenged. And to say point spreads shouldn’t be in a newspaper is just one more example of newspapers being out of touch with what their readers want. It’s information. People want to know it. It should be in there. End of rant.

Saturday an odd homecoming for Ole Miss’ Trahan

I wrote a notebook for today’s newspaper. Here’s how the first item starts:

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn cornerback Walt McFadden was set to be Patrick Trahan’s roommate a few years ago, back before the linebacker fell into poor academic standing and had to transfer away from the Plains.

“I’m still pretty upset with that because he left me with all the rent,” McFadden said with a grin. “And I had to pay a fine for that. So hopefully I can try to get that back this weekend.”

Trahan, now a 6-foot-2, 235-pound senior at Ole Miss, will make his first trip back to Auburn since leaving prior to his sophomore season.

The linebacker redshirted at Auburn in 2005 before playing in 12 games in 2006, making 11 tackles. He earned the nickname “The Gator” from teammates for the way he clapped his hands after making a tackle. But he was ruled academically ineligible prior to his sophomore season and left the program angry with the coaching staff.

“I just didn’t think it was right,” Trahan told the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss. “I didn’t think they treated my family right or me right.”

Read the rest here. And follow the blog on Twitter.

October 29, 2009

New video: Auburn coaches talk Eltoro, DeAngelo and ignoring the media

I’ve put together a new video from Wednesday’s round of interviews with coaches. It’s got head coach Gene Chizik, wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor, special teams coordinator Jay Boulware and graduate assistant Travis Williams answering questions leading into the Ole Miss game.

Enjoy.

Live chat replay

We had a successful hour-long run on the chat today. Read the replay below. Thanks again to all who participated.

Thursday links (10/29)

Reminder, I have a live chat today at 3 p.m. ET/2 p.m. CT. See you there. Now for the links …

  • Ole Miss 27, Auburn 17: The game within the game is Houston Nutt and Gus Malzahn meeting for the first time since their well-chronicled split following the 2006 season. The two teams appear to be headed in different directions. Auburn is trying to hang on after losing its last three, and Ole Miss is looking to take off after winning its last two. The difference will be Tyrone Nix’s Ole Miss defense, which has been outstanding all season.”
  • 10. Todd’s final chance? It’s not a coincidence that Chris Todd’s three worst games of the season have all resulted in Auburn losses. He hasn’t thrown for more than 133 yards in any of his last three games, and Auburn heads into Saturday’s home contest with Ole Miss riding a three-game losing streak. This may be Todd’s final chance to hold onto his starting spot. There was a lot of chatter earlier this week that the Tigers might go with junior Neil Caudle after Todd completed just eight passes for 47 yards and an interception in the 31-10 loss to LSU. Auburn coach Gene Chizik, though, said Todd still gives the Tigers the best chance to win despite his recent struggles. That vote of confidence will only go so far. Todd has to find a way to regain the form that saw him throw 12 touchdown passes and only one interception in his first five games.”
  • Sports Illustrated’s Stewart Mandel wrote his weekly college mailbag, in which he compares this year’s Iowa to the 2002 Ohio State “Luckeyes” and touches on some more SEC officiating nonsense.