Auburn head coach Gene Chizik had plenty of praise for an Ole Miss team that has lost 10 straight SEC games dating back to last season. The Rebels are 2-5, but Chizik doesn’t plan to take Ole Miss lightly at all.
“We’re playing an Ole Miss team that is extremely talented,” Chizik said. “They might be the best 2-5 team in the country.”
Chizik cited several factors to point out how dangerous Ole Miss can be. In quarterback Randall Mackey, Chizik believes the Rebels have found the player they want at quarterback, and he singled out running back Jeff Scott as a dynamic weapon for Ole Miss. On top of that, Chizik cited a punt return called back against Georgia and a couple of other big plays as more evidence of the Rebel’s potency.
“They’ve got a lot of speed, they’ve got a lot of athleticism,” Chizik said. “We’re going to have to play well on both sides of the ball.”
A win against Ole Miss Saturday would make Auburn 3-2 in the month of October against a schedule that featured four ranked teams at the start of the month.
Chizik said that’s something a young team can build on.
“No question about that. When you’re playing road games against three top-10 teams, that’s challenging, especially for a young team,” Chizik said. “We can build on those things.”
- Auburn’s stretch of road trips have the Tigers excited to play at Jordan-Hare Stadium in a night game this Saturday: “We’re excited to come back at home, excited to have a night game here at home. We’ve been gone three of the last four weeks, against some tough road opponents, so it’s nice to play in front of our own crowd.”
- On the offensive line, Chizik reiterated that everybody has to get better on the offensive side of the ball. Not just the offensive line, but that Auburn had breakdowns all over the lineup.
- Not surprising to hear Chizik say it, but a question about the team’s goals for the end of the season prompted Chizik to say Auburn takes everything week by week. Said right now, he’s focused on Ole Miss. “Mathematically, whether we’re in or out of a championship, bowl season, who’s going where, that’s going to be a lot chatter,” Chizik said. “Our focus is on each football team.”
- Defensive end Craig Sanders has been routinely praised for a couple of weeks now. Sanders is used as Mike Pelton’s Swiss Army knife. At this point, he’s played almost every position on the line. “He’s one of those guys, never says a word, comes to play every day,” Chizik said. “We could tell Craig this morning he’s playing offensive guard, and he’d say yes sir.”
- Special teams will be huge for Auburn this week. After dominating the punting game most of the season, Steven Clark struggled Saturday, and Ole Miss has brought a couple of punts back for touchdowns already. “Ole Miss has one of the best special teams units in the league.”
- On the receivers: “I think it’s been too sporadic. There have been times when I’ve seen great catches, and there have been times when they have dropped balls right in their hands. Very inconsistent… Again, we’ve got some young guys we’ve got to try to get the ball to.”
- Chizik mentioned that the receiving corps is young right now, but he also said that Auburn’s coaching staff expects somebody step up when a guy like Emory Blake goes down.
- The problems go beyond pass-catching. In games, routes haven’t always been precise, and the receivers have struggled with getting off of the line at times.
- Both safeties, Neiko Thorpe and Demetruce McNeal, lead the team in tackles, but Chizik said that’s not necessarily a problem. “I can probably point to 12 teams in this league that have safeties in the top range of tackles,” Chizik said. “Whether our safeties are in the top three tacklers or not, we’re concerned with points.”
- Chizik has a point in the tackles question. Going into last Saturday’s games, LSU’s top four tacklers were all defensive backs, and the Tigers are obviously ranked No. 1 in the country.
- On Onterio McCalebb’s pure speed. “I’m not sure how fast he is. I just know he’s real fast.” Wide receiver Travante Stallworth said later that McCalebb is probably the fastest player on the team.” Chizik also mentioned that McCalebb has become a complete player.