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October 31, 2010

Pre-practice notes: Auburn burns redshirt on cornerback Ryan White out of necessity

With limited bodies in the secondary, Auburn burned the redshirt on cornerback Ryan White against Ole Miss on Saturday. Head coach Gene Chizik said the Tigers didn’t have any other choice.

“Two weeks ago, we had to make the decision to play him,” Chizik said. “We had to take him out of the redshirt, which we didn’t want to do. But we’re at that place and time where we have no choice.”

Auburn brought only four cornerbacks to Oxford: Neiko Thorpe, Demond Washington, Chris Davis and White.

T’Sharvan Bell has missed the last two games with a hamstring problem. Anthony Morgan is “banged up.”

White was the next option. The true freshman got a late start in August after trying his hand at quarterback the first two weeks of two-a-days. He spent all season on the scout team, mimicking option quarterbacks whenever the Tigers would face one.

Auburn began gearing him up for special teams work during LSU week. White didn’t make his debut until Ole Miss, however.

“Against LSU, all of a sudden it was ‘Wow, I’m redshirting, now I’ve got to go play,’” Chizik said. “That’s pretty eye-opening for a young guy. We’re trying to bring him along in practice every day so he gets a little less of a ‘wow’ factor for him when he gets in there.”

White got in as a cornerback with the reserves late in the game.

“At the end of the day, it was ‘Man, I’ve got a chance to help the team win,’” Chizik said. “That’s the ultimate goal for all of us: we want to win. And he understands that’s his role that he’s got to serve on the team.”

Chizik said Auburn’s depth situation isn’t too much different than last year.

‘It’s just that this time last year it would have been a walk-on. Now it’s a true freshman,” he said. “We don’t like to do that to the best of our ability, but we have to do what we have to do.”

Auburn has now played 16 true freshmen this year. Ten are currently redshirting.

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Some other longer notes and quotes from today’s teleconference:

  • Chizik likes how Auburn has handled the BCS hubbub: “I think our coaches have really done a good job of carrying on day-to-day as they usually do. I think our players have really done a good job of shielding themselves from all the outside opinions and things of that nature and really tried to be a one-day-at-a-time team. And I just feel like that has happened to the best of our ability. And Saturday, again, we had to go and play an extremely tough road game, and I thought they focused and played well and kind of blocked out all the outside possible distractions.”
  • Auburn could drop to No. 2 in the BCS rankings this week (although ESPN’s Brad Edwards said it will remain No. 1). Want to guess if Chizik cares about this? “No. We’ve just got to keep doing our part,” he said. “I don’t really have the energy for it, to be honest with you. I’m just trying to get better every day along with the rest of our team. Our job is to keep winning. None of that is in our control. We’re playing to the best of our ability, we’re coaching to the best of our ability. If we weren’t doing that, then I’d have a concern. But as long as they’re playing to the best of their ability in terms of effort and how they’re being coached and we’re doing the things that need to as coaches to win, that’s what I look at every day.”
  • No news on the status of TE Philip Lutzenkirchen, who changed into street clothes during the Ole Miss game at one point. Chizik didn’t give any specifics on what was bothering the sophomore. “He’s just beat up like everybody else,” he said.
  • Lots of stuff on Washington today. I think I’m doing my Tuesday story on him, but here’s a good quote by Chizik about him: “Demond wants the challenges. He likes to be challenged. That’s why he’s so good on kickoffs. He’s a competitor. He wants the ball. He wants you to throw at him. I think Demond’s, probably over the last couple weeks, become a better football player. He’s become more productive.”
  • Chizik gave some kudos to defensive tackle Zach Clayton for running down an Ole Miss running back down the sideline and making a tackle Saturday. “It’s unbelievable,” Chizik said. “Iit’s phenomenal. It’s just great effort. There’s another guy who doesn’t get near the recognition week in, week out he deserves. He’s been a real force for us, I think, down there inside.”
  • Daren Bates didn’t travel. Jonathan Evans filled in and made five tackles, including a half-tackle for a loss. Eltoro Freeman got some time too. “I thought they filled in fine,” Chizik said. “I don’t think there was a whole noticeable drop-off in my opinion.”
  • Chizik said quarterback Cam Newton has some things to improve on. Namely: tackling. “We’re still evaluating that. We’re going to do some extra drills Tuesday to make sure that he’s got the proper body position,” Chizik joked. “He’s got to be a little more athletic when he makes catches, too. He was way too close on (to the sideline) on that. We’ve got to work on that.”
  • Is there anything else Newton can do right now? “If we did, he could probably do all the above,” he said. “He’s that good of an athlete. Right now, we’re going to limit it to handing off, running, throwing and now catching.”

Live blogging Gene Chizik’s teleconference

Gene Chizik has arrived. Here’s what he has had to say:

  • “It was great to finish up the month of October, which was an extremely difficult month on our schedule.”
  • On handling the BCS distractions: “I think our players have done a good job of shielding themselves from outside distractions.”
  • Said teh team doesn’t decide ahead of time how much Cam Newton will run. “The plans don’t always unfold the way you think they will on gameday.”
  • On UT-Chattanooga only being able to practice 16 hours a week (APR result): “That basically cuts out a day of practice. I can imagine it’s fairly challenging. I don’t really have the energy to think about it.”
  • On TE Philip Lutzenkirchen: “I don’t really have a whole lot of information that will be helpful right now.” Said he was “beat up.”
  • Auburn gave up a big run early. “I assess everything on how we did after that.” Said the defense got the jet sweep under control. “I thought they responded well.”
  • On Demond Wasington: “He’s got a good feel for it right now. And we’re blocking it better. If he hits one of those seams, he’s got a chance to go.”
  • On the BCS: “I don’t really have the energy for it, to be honest with you. Our job is to keep winning.”
  • Singled out Demond and Mike Dyer as having a great game. O-line too. Kodi Burns as a blocker on the perimeter.
  • Liked the kickoffs they’re getting from Cody Parkey and Wes Byrum.
  • On DB Ryan White playing: “Simply by bodies two weeks ago, we had to have the decision to play him.” Didn’t want to take the redshirt off. “We were at a place and time where we didn’t have a choice.”
  • Auburn only brought four cornerbacks to the game. White was No. 4. Antony Morgan is “banged up.”
  • Said depth situation is not too different than last year. “This time last year it would have been a walk-on. This year it’s a true freshman.”
  • On the secondary: “They’re fighting. They’re battling.”
  • Credited Demond’s pick at the 2 as a huge momentum shift. “Demond likes the challenges.”
  • On yesterday’s road Tiger Walk: “It was off the chart.”
  • On autograph seekers: “There are going to some that don’t have their heart in the right place, but most of them do.”
  • Thought DEs Michael Goggans and Corey Lemonier played with great effort.
  • On DE Zach Clayton chasing a running back down for a tackle 25 yards down the field: “Phenomenal. It’s unbelievable.” Said Clayton still doesn’t get enough recognition.
  • Said Jonathan Evans filled in fine for LB Daren Bates. “I didn’t think there was a noticeable dropoff.”
  • On Newton: “We just have to limit him to handing it off, throwing, running and, now, catching.”
  • This week is about Auburn.” Said they’re going to look back at the last month and re-evaluate the team.
  • On this week’s game against UT-Chattanooga, a lower division team: “We will tell them the expectation is to win. And if we do what we should do in the name of improving as a team, then we should have a chance to win the game.”

And that’s a wrap.

Auburn moves up in polls, will have to wait until tonight to see if it keeps top spot in BCS rankings

Auburn jumped Boise State to No. 2 in the coaches’ and Harris polls, but the Tigers could lose their No. 1 Bowl Championship Series ranking when the standings are released tonight.
According to several projections, Auburn will get jumped by Oregon for the No. 1 BCS spot, a week after the Tigers moved to the top of the rankings. Both bcsguru.com and Jerry Palm‘s collegebcs.com project Oregon to get a major boost in the computer rankings to pass Auburn.

But according to ESPN’s Brad Edwards, Auburn will remain the No. 1 team in the rankings.

Auburn moved up to No. 1 in the BCS rankings for the first time in school history last week largely on the strength of its computer ranking, which was tops in the country.
The Ducks, who are No. 1 in both polls, were eighth in the computer rankings last week. They stand to move up considerably after beating Southern California and watching previously unbeaten Missouri and Michigan State both lose. The Tigers and Spartans were ranked second and third, respectively, in the computer rankings last week.
Auburn still improved its standing in the polls, however. The Tigers jumped Boise State in the coaches’ poll and Harris Poll to No. 2. Those rankings make up two-thirds of the BCS formula.
Auburn gained 34 points in the coaches’ poll, getting four first-place votes (one more than last week) to move past Boise State by 23 points. The Broncos were 33 points ahead of the Tigers last week.
In the Harris poll, Auburn got 10 first-place votes, four more than last week. The Tigers went from 57 points behind Boise State to 48 points ahead.
The Tigers closed the gap in the Associated Press poll, despite staying at No. 3. Auburn cut Boise State’s lead from 43 points to seven. The AP poll does not factor into the BCS formula.
Here’s a glance at the coaches’ poll:

1. Oregon (51), 8-0, 1,464 points, LW; 1
2. Auburn (4), 9-0, 1,384 points, LW; 3
3. Boise State (3), 7-0, 1,361 points, LW; 2
4. TCU (1), 9-0, 1,292, points LW: 4
5. Alabama, 7-1, 1,213, LW: 6

And the Harris poll:
1. Oregon (92), 8-0, 2,823 points, LW: 1
2. Auburn (10), 9-0, 2,683 points, LW: 3
3. Boise State (12), 7-0, 2,635 points, LW: 2
4. TCU, 9-0, 2,529 points, LW: 4
5. Alabama, 7-1, 2,346 points, LW: 6
And a glance at the AP poll:
1. Oregon (49), 8-0, 1,487 points, LW: 1
2. Boise State (7), 7-0 1,403 points, LW: 2
3. Auburn (2), 9-0 1,396 points, LW: 3
4. TCU (2), 9-0, 1396 points, LW: 4
5. Alabama, 7-1, 1,228 points, LW: 6
  • Two No. 1 votes: Doug Lesmerises of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer and Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News.
  • John Niyo of the Detroit News, who had Auburn No. 1 last week, dropped the Tigers to second behind Oregon.
  • Auburn was second on 26 ballots, 10 more than last week. It was third on 18 ballots and fourth on 14 ballots.
  • Nobody had the Tigers lower than fourth.
  • The two state voters, Jon Solomon of the Birmingham News and Cecil Hurt of the Tuscaloosa News, both had Auburn second.
  • Their average rank was 2.73.

Final: Auburn 51, Ole Miss 31

An easy looking win for Auburn tonight, which looked like it answered some of its critics. Here’s how tomorrow’s game story starts:

OXFORD, Miss. — The Bowl Championship Series’ No. 1 team certainly looked the part Saturday night.

Auburn showed no letdown in a 51-31 win at Ole Miss, six days after rising to the top spot in the BCS rankings for the first time in school history.

The Tigers (9-0, 6-0 SEC) avoided the top-ranked curse, doing what Alabama, Ohio State and Oklahoma couldn’t in the last three weeks — win a conference road game with a No. 1 ranking next to their school’s name.

We plugged our ears to the media when it came to every week the No. 1 team has fallen short of a victory,” quarterback Cam Newton said.

On a day when Michigan State and Missouri fell from the ranks of the unbeatens, Auburn had no such trouble, building an insurmountable lead to silence the 61,474 in attendance at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, the fifth largest crowd in Ole Miss history.

Newton showed off his passing chops (and his potential as a 6-foot-6 receiver), the Tigers scored on a number of explosive plays and the defense did a serviceable job of containing Rebels quarterback Jeremiah Masoli in a runaway win that should silence some of Auburn’s critics.

I don’t know what they’re going to see when they watch us,” head coach Gene Chizik said. “But we’ve got a good football team.”

Let’s go through the rest bullet style, shall we?

  • Auburn finished with 572 yards of offense and 51 points, the most it has ever scored against Ole Miss. “For us, that’s not much of a shock,” Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said. “It probably is for the outside world.”
  • It didn’t do it in typical fashion. Ole Miss sold out to stop Newton from running the ball. He threw it at will instead. The Heisman Trophy candidate threw for 188 of his 209 yards in the first half. Newton completed a season-high 18 of 24 passes, spreading the ball around. Often forgotten receivers Darvin Adams, Emory Blake and Terrell Zachery combined for 16 catches, 189 yards and two touchdowns. “I think it is good, because I hear a lot of people say that we’re a one-dimensional team and all we can do is run the ball,” Blake said. “But we’re aware we have talent on the perimeter and we know what our ability is.”
  • Newton played a new role, too: receiver. He had a nifty 20-yard touchdown catch in the corner of the end zone on a ball thrown by Kodi Burns. How good of a receiver could the 6-foot-6 Newton be if he was a full-time receiver. “Really good,” Malzahn deadpanned. “No doubt. Coach Troop is always like, ‘He can come in my room’ Naw. Naw.”
  • Blake had a good take on Newton’s catch too: “He’s 6-6. He better come down with the ball.”
  • Once Auburn established the pass, it put the game away with the run. The Tigers got 203 of their 343 yards in the second half, topping the 300-yard mark for the fifth straight SEC game. “You rush for the yards that we rush for in this league, your offensive line has to be doing some great things,” Malzahn said.
  • Freshman tailback Mike Dyer continued to establish himself as the Tigers’ go-to back, rushing 21 times for a career-high 180 yards and a touchdown. “Mike seemed to be the catalyst tonight,” Chizik said. Dyer has 723 rushing yards this year, the third most for a freshman in Auburn history. Bo Jackson had 829 in 1982 and Travis Tidwell had 772 in 1946.
  • A big night for Demond Washington. First he came up with a momentum-shifting interception on the Auburn 2-yard line after the Tigers handed the Rebels great field position with a fumble. It was 17-14 Auburn at the time and halted Ole Miss completely. “It was huge,” Chizik said. “There was no question about it. We knew they were going to throw the ball up to some of their taller receivers. They tried to get Demond matched up on a 6-foot-4 guy, and they threw the ball up.
  • Washington added to his night with a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown with 2½ left before halftime to make it 31-17. He broke Tristan Davis‘ 2006 single-season school record for kickoff return yardage in the process.
  • The Tigers took a 34-17 lead into halftime getting a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown from Demond Washington and a 35-yard field goal from Wes Byrum in the final 2½ minutes. “I couldn’t keep my feet,” said Washington, who slipped on two returns that looked like they could have gone for big yardage. “It was there all night, but I couldn’t keep my feet. I kept telling coach, ‘Go back to it, go back to it.’ He said keep your feet this time, and I said I will.”
  • Defensively, the Tigers allowed 31 points — the sixth time they have allowed 24 or more in a game this year — but that number is slightly misleading. Ole Miss running back Jeff Scott scored on an 83-yard run on the game’s second play. And the Rebels scored on a long touchdown drive late in the game against Auburn’s second- and third-stringers.
  • In between, the Tigers played some pretty good defense. Although they didn’t have a sack, they generally corralled Masoli, who threw for 189 yards and a touchdown but was limited to 29 rushing yards on 14 carries. Auburn stepped up big in the third quarter, holding Ole Miss to zero yards on six plays right after halftime. The Tigers scored 10 points on those two possessions to put the game out of reach at 44-17.
  • I’m not sure what the status of TE Philip Lutzenkirchen is. He was in street clothes by the end of the game. Not sure exactly when he left.
  • Safety Zac Etheridge and running back Rodney Scott had a chance to meet at the post-game prayer circle, a nice capper to their story. Etheridge’s family was there as well. “It’s been a tough week for me to really prepare for this game,” Etheridge said. “You start reflecting on a lot of stuff. But I overcame it, we’re 9-0, so I’m happy.”
  • Your offensive leaders (not previously mentioned):
  • RB Onterio McCalebb: 9 carries, 99 yards (68-yard TD run)
  • Newton: 11 carries, 45 yards
  • Adams: 6 catches, 75 yards, TD
  • Blake: 5 catches, 50 yards
  • Zachery: 5 catches, 54 yards, TD
  • Burns: 2 catches, 20 yards, 1-1 passing, 20 yards, TD
  • Third-down conversions: 9-for-13
  • Your defensive leaders:
  • CB Neiko Thorpe: 7 tackles
  • Washington: 6 cakles, 1 interception, 1 pass breakup
  • S Mike McNeil: 6 tackles
  • LB Jonathan Evans: 5 tackles, .5 TFL
  • DT Nick Fairley: 4 tackles, 1 TFL
  • Ole Miss third-down conversions: 6 of 14
  • TOP: Auburn 33:14, Ole Miss 26:46
  • One last thought: the win puts Auburn a step closer to its goal of winning the SEC West and possibly more. The Tigers have at least one backer on the Ole Miss sideline. After the game, a Rebels assistant approached Newton with a simple request: “Go win it all.”

October 30, 2010

Halftime: Auburn leads Ole Miss 34-17

OXFORD, Miss. — The Bowl Championship Series’ No. 1 team looks the part after one half at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

Auburn has a 34-17 lead against Ole Miss after 30 minutes thanks to Cam Newton‘s passing and a number of explosive plays.

Newton, the SEC’s rushing leader, hasn’t run much, but he has completed 15 of 21 passes for 188 yards and a touchdown. He also caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from Kodi Burns out of the Wildcat formation.

Darvin Adams has six catches for 75 yards and a touchdown. Emory Blake has five catches for 86 yards. The Tigers have 348 yards of offense.

Ole Miss scored first, getting an 83-yard touchdown run from Jeff Scott on the second play of the game.

Auburn answered with Burns’ touchdown pass to Newton and went ahead on a 68-yard touchdown run by Onterio McCalebb.

The Rebels tied it at 14 on a 29-yard touchdown pass from Jeremiah Masoli to Markeith Summers, but it was almost all Auburn the rest of the half.

Wes Byrum‘s 25-yard field goal made it 17-14 before Demond Washington picked off a Masoli pass at the Tigers’ own 2-yard line. Auburn drove 98 yards, getting a 24-yard touchdown pass from Newton to Adams to finish the drive.

After an Ole Miss field goal, Washington broke free for a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, the second of his career.

After a fourth-down stop in Rebels territory, Byrum made a 35-yard field goal just before halftime to make it 34-17.

Running pre-game Auburn-Ole Miss blog post

You’re looking LIVE at Jerry Hollingsworth Field at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Miss. It doesn’t look like much from the outside but it’s a pretty nice stadium once you get inside, as you can see from the above picture.

We’re here early in anticipation of a tackle football game that will take place later tonight between the Auburn Tigers and Ole Miss Rebel Landshark Black Bears presented by Hotty and Toddy. Should be an entertaining game.

Personally, I would have chosen Rebel Alliance leader Admiral Ackbar as the school’s mascot. He would have fit perfectly into the theme of this game (“IT’S A TRAP!”).

As usual, we’ll be blogging as the game gets closer with any pertinent information. If you have checked out my game advance, click here to do so. It’s about Ole Miss quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who has been a Cam Newton-lite this year.

You can also follow the blog on Twitter for quick information and in-game musings. Tweet at me if you’ve got any questions. I usually check often throughout the game.

Here’s some pre-game minutia you might care to know:

  • Ole Miss has requested to wear white uniforms, which means Auburn will be in its usual home blue. But the Rebels are still calling for fans to wear blue to the game. This is weird, but it is true.
  • Auburn leads the series 25-9.
  • Auburn had won seven straight games in Oxford before Mississippi won in 2008.
  • The Tigers (8-0, 5-0 SEC) are No. 1 in the BCS rankings for the first time in school history.
  • Auburn is ranked third in the Associated Press and coaches polls, its highest ranking since No. 2 in 2006.
  • The Tigers are the only team in the AP Top 25 that has four wins against ranked teams. Only Wisconsin has beaten as many as two.
  • Auburn is fourth nationally in rushing offense (303.3 ypg), 10th in total offense (486.8 ypg) and 11th in scoring offense (38.6 ppg).
  • Ole Miss has allowed 32.0 point per game, 12th in the SEC.
  • Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, who leads the SEC with 1,077 rushing yards, is the only player in school history to rush for at least 170 yards in four straight SEC games.
  • Newton leads the nation with 14 rushing touchdowns and 27 combined passing and rushing touchdowns.
  • Ole Miss averages 211.1 rushing yards per game, third in the league. But Auburn has been stingy against the run. The Tigers are third in the league in rushing defense, allowing 103.4 yards a game.
  • Auburn has allowed 28 points in the fourth quarter and overtime this season.
  • Tigers DT Nick Fairley leads the SEC and is third nationally with 17 tackles for loss. Auburn is 14th nationally as a team, averaging 7.5 tackles for loss per game.
  • The Rebels are 0-6 all-time against the nation’s top team.
  • Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt has five wins against teams ranked in the top five, including a 50-48 triple-overtime victory at No. 1 LSU while with Arkansas in 2007. In all five games, Nutt’s team was unranked.
  • Rebels QB Masoli is one of four quarterbacks nationally to average at least 50 rushing yards and 180 passing yards per game. He’s averaged 57.1 rushing yards and 180.0 passing yards per game this year.
  • Ole Miss has allowed seven sacks this year, fewest in the SEC. It ranks 17th nationally.
  • The line is Auburn by 7.

UPDATE, 2:18 p.m.: Ole Miss has just passed out 3D glasses at every press box seat. It appears there are also 3D glasses on every seat in the stadium. On the back: “Comin’ at ya at the end of the first half!” I’m intrigued.

UPDATE, 3:08 p.m.: No sign of LB Daren Bates (shoulder) or CB T’Sharvan Bell (hamstring) in the pre-game prayer circle. Judging by his tweets, Bates did not make the trip. Bell I don’t know about.

UPDATE, 4:07 p.m.: Apparently Ole Miss has gone with red uniforms today, not white. Not sure why it was imperative that Auburn wear blue. Maybe it’s an election thing: blue vs. red.

UPDATE, 4:09 p.m.: Bates and Bell aren’t in the pre-game stretching. Looks like they’re not here.

UPDATE, 4:49 p.m.: Lineup changes: Jonathan Evans will start at OLB in place of Bates. Mike Dyer will start instead of Mario Fannin.

UPDATE, 5:00 p.m.: And the great uniform debate is over. Ole Miss is wearing all-gray to honor the 1960 national championship team. According to a sheet passed out, it is “believed to be the first time the Ole Miss football team has worn a jersey that was not red, white or blue.”

Ole Miss quarterback Jeremiah Masoli gives Tigers dual-threat concern

The blog didn’t fare so well at the craps tables in Tunica, Miss.. But before we lost our shirt, we filed this game advance about Ole Miss quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and how Auburn will have a tall task trying to contain him tonight. Here’s how it starts:

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn’s defense is well aware of the danger a dual-threat quarterback can present. It sees one of the best in practice every day.

That doesn’t make tonight’s matchup against Ole Miss’ Jeremiah Masoli any easier.

The Tigers (8-0, 5-0 SEC) will try to keep their No. 1 Bowl Championship Series ranking at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium by corralling Masoli, a smaller but still-dangerous version of Cam Newton.

“He’s the most athletic quarterback we’ve faced,” Auburn safeties coach Tommy Thigpen said.

Although the Rebels (3-4, 1-3 SEC) have struggled to win this year, it can’t be pinned on Masoli.

The 5-foot-11, 220-pound senior has thrown for 1,260 yards and 10 touchdowns and has added another 400 yards and three touchdowns on the ground in his first year at Ole Miss.

Read the full thing here. And follow the blog on Twitter and Facebook.

October 29, 2010

Who has the edge: Auburn or Ole Miss?

Hitting the road today, but I had time to get this matchups blog post up first.
(Quick blog plugs: Twitter and Facebook.)
No. 1 Auburn at Ole Miss
  • Where: Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, Oxford, Miss.
  • When: Saturday, 6 p.m. ET
  • TV: ESPN2
  • Records: Auburn 8-0, 5-0 SEC; Ole Miss 3-4, 1-3 SEC

Auburn passing game vs. Ole Miss secondary

Because the Tigers haven’t had to throw the ball much, their passing game gets overlooked. But it’s not bad. Cam Newton is still the most efficient passer in the SEC and third in the country (172.1),, even though Auburn is averaging only 183.5 yards per game in the air, eighth in the SEC. Although Darvin Adams‘ catches are down, he still seems to find a way to get open on third downs when Auburn needs him. Ole Miss, meanwhile, is giving up 245.6 yards per game in the air, only a fraction better than Auburn’s maligned secondary. Making matters worse, safety Damien Jackson has a knee injury and is doubtful for the game. The Tigers may not have to throw it, but if they do they could take advantage. Edge: Auburn.

Auburn running backs vs. Ole Miss linebackers

Auburn’s rushing totals the last four SEC games: 334, 311, 330 and 440. That’s pretty good. Newton is at this point a runner first and not one that’s easy to bring down. He’ll get the lion’s share of carries again, and quite honestly no defense has shown it is capable of slowing him down. Mike Dyer and Onterio McCalebb looked like a good power-speed combo against LSU, each doing their part. The coaches say Mario Fannin will remain a part of the offense, but I can’t imagine it involves too much inside running, not with his fumbling issues. Middle linebacker Jonathan Cornell is Ole Miss’ leading tackler with 51 (including 9.5 TFLs). But he, like other linebackers, faces the same problem: he’s 6-1, 235, tiny compared to Newton. It’s been a problem for previous defenses and it should be for this one too. Edge: Auburn.

Auburn offensive line vs. Ole Miss defensive line

No unit has elevated its play since the start of the year like the offensive line, which began pounding teams after the Clemson game. It’s a veteran group that’s been through some tough battles, so going on the road shouldn’t rattle it. The Tigers will have a tough matchup in the Rebels. Nose tackle Jerrell Powe, a 6-foot-2, 320-pound load in the middle, is tough to move and the other linemen can makes plays. Ole Miss is fifth in the league with 19 sacks. Then again, everybody was saying good things about the LSU defensive line prior to last week’s game. Edge: Auburn.

Ole Miss passing game vs. Auburn secondary

Jeremiah Masoli is a dual-threat quarterback, so he can beat a team through the air. Ole Miss doesn’t get too many yards per game passing (199.1), but it has 13 passing touchdowns. The Rebels spread it around. Five different receivers have 13 or more catches. Each has caught at least one touchdown. If you’re looking for a matchup problems here, how about 6-foot-7 Melvin Harris. Ole Miss has a big play guy too: Markeith Summers, who is averaging 22.4 yards per catch and has four touchdowns. Auburn’s defensive backs fared better against LSU, but that wasn’t exactly the smoothest operating offense it has faced. The group is still banged up. Neiko Thorpe has a hand injury. T’Sharvan Bell has a hamstring problem. And Aairon Savage is out with a broken bone in his ankle. That makes this a tough matchup. Edge: Ole Miss.

Ole Miss running backs vs. Auburn linebackers

The Rebels are kind of like the Tigers in that their quarterback accounts for a lot of rushing yardage. Masoli has rushed for 400 yards this year, second on the team. Brandon Bolden handles the bulk of the load (559 yards on 97 carries), leading a rushing offense that’s third in the league and 20th nationally, averaging 211.1 yards per game. That means Auburn’s tacklers will have to be on their game. Josh Bynes and Craig Stevens generally don’t have problems. But with Daren Bates likely out with a shoulder problem, it means increased time for Jonathan Evans and Eltoro Freeman, something Ole Miss can take advantage of. Plus, Auburn didn’t do a great job containing LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson as a runner last week (74 yards, TD). Masoli’s a better runner than that. Edge: Ole Miss.

Ole Miss offensive line vs. Auburn defensive line

I found this stat to be remarkable: Ole Miss leads the SEC in sacks allowed with seven. That’s in 182 attempts. So clearly this group is at least decent (I can imagine Masoli’s mobility has a lot to do with as well). It’s still not a veteran group. Only left tackle Bradley Sowell is an entrenched second-year starter (although RT Bobbie Massey finished last year as a starter and was a preseason second-team All-SEC pick by Lindy’s). Center Evan Swindall and left guard Patrick Junen are true freshmen, however. Think Nick Fairley, he of the 17 TFLs and 7.5 sacks, might be licking his chops for that matchup? Oh, Auburn is also third in the league against the run, allowing 103.4 yards per game. Edge: Auburn.

Auburn return units vs. Ole Miss coverage teams

Quindarius Carr didn’t look very comfortable going after the ball last week on punt returns (despite Trooper Taylor‘s claims that there was only one ball he should have let go). Auburn paid a price in field position because of it. The kick return game remains a constant threat with Demond Washington and McCalebb back there. Ole Miss is 95th nationally in kick return yardage allowed (23.54) but punter Tyler Campbell is second in the league with a 45.9-yard average. Punt advantage: Ole Miss. Kick return advantage: Auburn. Edge: Push.

Ole Miss return units vs. Auburn coverage teams

Jesse Grandy has returned only eight punts this year, but he has a 20.6-yard average, with one for a touchdown. Ole Miss’ kick return game has lagged (98th nationally), but Grandy is a constant threat. Just ask the Tigers. He burned them for an 82-yard kickoff return last year. Auburn’s coverage units are better this year, but its punting has been a problem. Freshman Steven Clark hasn’t given Auburn the boost its been looking for in the punting game, averaging 37.0 yards per punt so far. That’ll have to improve for the Tigers to ever get the edge here. Edge: Ole Miss.

Kickers

Wes Byrum had another hiccup against LSU, missing a 39-yarder. But he did hit one from 42 and is still 12-for-16 this year. Ole Miss’ Bryson Rose is 8-for-10, although his longest this year was 41 and six of his makes are from 35 and in. Edge: Auburn.

Coaches

Houston Nutt seems to motivate his troops to an upset win in these kind of situations at least once a year, but he’s had a tough time getting this group going. This is the same team that lost at home earlier this year to Jacksonville State and Vanderbilt. Gene Chizik has done a good job of keeping Auburn from getting ahead of itself (probably because every game comes down to the wire with this team). I don’t think you can discount the fact that Gus Malzahn will be very motivated to stick it to the coach who ran him off after one year at Arkansas. He won’t admit as much (it’s not Gus’ style), but you can just tell. Edge: Auburn.

Prediction

SEC road games are never easy. Look at how Auburn did in three-point wins at Mississippi State and Kentucky (a pair of games that look a lot better in hindsight, by the way). No, I don’t think it’ll be easy going into Oxford and playing a night game in what should be an amped-up atmosphere to play the BCS No. 1 team. But I think Auburn will handle its business here. For Ole Miss to win, it’ll either have to simply outscore the Tigers or play a ball control game that keeps Newton off the field. Either way, I don’t like the Rebels’ chances. There will be some points, but Auburn will have more. Prediction: Auburn 37, Ole Miss 28.

Tigers’ wide receivers take pride in blocking

Today’s newspaper story is about how Auburn’s receivers have embraced their role as blockers. Here’s how it starts:

AUBURN, Ala. — As Onterio McCalebb raced down the field on his 70-yard, game-winning touchdown run against LSU, Auburn’s wide receivers picked themselves up off the ground behind the play, satisfied with the role they had in it.

Emory Blake chipped a linebacker, Kodi Burns picked up a cornerback while Terrell Zachery buried another 15 yards downfield, springing McCalebb to the perimeter, virtually untouched.
“We knew we were a big part of that play and we made that play spring like it did,” Blake said. “We take a lot of pride in blocking on the perimeter.”
The offensive line has gotten the bulk of credit for the Tigers’ rushing success, and rightfully so, but the blocking by Auburn’s wide receivers has played a major role in helping the team turn itself into a rushing juggernaut.
“The guys have bought in,” Auburn wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor said. “They’re doing a great job. And they understand with the backs and the quarterback we have, if you get them on the perimeter, they have the chance to score.”
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October 28, 2010

Live chat replay

Good chat today. Went for an hour and a half. Record high for readers. We covered a bunch of Auburn and got off on a Boise State tangent at the end. Read the replay below.