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October 30, 2011

Emptying the Notebook: Auburn-Ole Miss

Photo By Todd Van Emst

When Auburn opened October with four games against ranked opponents and a matchup against Ole Miss looming on the horizon, few observers thought the Tigers would be able to emerge from the month with a winning record. But Saturday night’s 41-23 dismantling of Ole Miss gets Auburn to 3-2 in the month, removes the worry about making a bowl (Auburn is now bowl-eligible) and showed that a young team does have some things to build on going into the final three games of the season and postseason play.

“We’ve come a long way,” Auburn head coach Gene Chizik said. “The challenge of the month was certainly out there in front of us, and our guys knew that.”

Now, that doesn’t mean there were no trouble spots in Auburn’s victory over Ole Miss. For one, the Rebels’ defense is ranked near the bottom of the SEC in every category, so Auburn will have to keep its newfound momentum going against better defenses with Georgia and Alabama looming. And No. 2, the Tigers’ defense took a step back. Auburn seemed to regress against the run on Saturday, although the secondary did a much better job against the deep ball.

But overall, the offense’s performance had to be encouraging. After scoring fewer than 20 points in four straight games, Auburn came up with 41 points and its second-highest yardage total of the season (414). That’s something to build on.

Make sure to follow the blog on Twitter. With the game kicking off at 7 ET, there may not be as much coverage as last week, btu I still have plenty written for the paper I’ve linked below.

Four-Down Territory

– First Down – The key to Auburn’s offense should be obvious now. For the Tigers to thrive, Auburn has to have balance. Granted, Ole Miss’s defense is one of the worst in the SEC, but Auburn’s offense had been stuck in such a funk that scoring 41 points, even against an overmatched opponent, seemed a little out of the question. But with Clint Moseley completing 12-of-15 passes for 160 yards and four touchdowns, Auburn finally put together some points Saturday. You can’t scoff at Moseley’s performance, either. Moseley averaged 10.7 yards-per-attempt, a figure any team in football would like to have. Most teams aim to average about 8.0 yards-per-attempt. And with Ole Miss struggling to contain the pass, Auburn’s running game got back to the attack that won games against South Carolina and Florida. Now Gus Malzahn’s constant refrain that he wants to take what the defense is giving them makes plenty of sense. One thing opens up the other.

– Second Down – Auburn’s problems against the run in the first half had to be a little surprising to most fans. After the way the Tigers shut down Florida’s Chris Rainey on the edge two weeks ago, a similar attack featuring the Rebels’ Jeff Scott shouldn’t have had so much success. But Ole Miss carved up Auburn’s defense on the corner, and the Rebels put a scare into the Tigers for a while there heading into the second half. Poor tackling allowed Brandon Bolden to have his best game of the season, and Auburn consistently failed to make Jeff Scott work for yards if Eltoro Freeman wasn’t involved in the play. With good backs left on the schedule in Georgia’s Isaiah Crowell and Alabama’s Trent Richardson, expect the run defense to be a serious point of emphasis over the bye week.

– Third down — Funny, isn’t it, how the presence of Emory Blake suddenly made the rest of Auburn’s receivers look a little better? Quindarius Carr had a chance to do what he does best on his 45-yard touchdown catch, and Quan Bray made a nice play on the outside on a quick throw from Moseley. What was a little puzzling, and it may have had a lot to do with Blake’s emergence in the passing game, was the absence of Trovon Reed. After talking about getting Reed more involved, Auburn never looked in his direction. That being said, if Emory Blake is finding holes and making plays like the double move he put on an Ole Miss defender to score his touchdown, the other guys catching the ball may not matter.

– Fourth down – No defensive coordinator wants to give up 382 yards of total offense, but the big plays created by Auburn’s defense mitigated Ole Miss’s yardage. What really matters is points on the scoreboard, and the Rebels’ inconsequential touchdown in the second half will give Auburn’s defense something to build on heading into the bye week. Auburn produced four sacks, two fumbles and an interception, which is why Ole Miss was held to just 23 points despite rushing for 220 yards. For most of the season, Corey Lemonier has been the Tigers’ only consistent playmaker on defense, but he may have some help in middle linebacker Eltoro Freeman. Freeman finished with a team-high 11 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 tackles-for-loss and a fumble forced in a dominant performance. Special mention, too, to Jawara White, who had nine tackles and appears to be developing into a solid player on the outside.

1 Comment

  1. Well done, Joel. Nice write up. I see that the Ledger-Enquirer found a worthy replacement for Andy.

    Comment by Sullivan013 — October 30, 2011 @ 7:55 am

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