No. 12 Auburn Tigers, Ole Miss Rebels preview, game time, outlook

By The Sports Xchange  |  Oct. 4, 2017 at 11:52 AM
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While Auburn's offense is clicking at a highly productive rate, struggling Ole Miss has a defense that is at its worst.

The 12th-ranked Tigers (4-1 overall, 2-0 SEC) host Ole Miss (2-2, 0-1) on Saturday coming off a 51-14 victory over Missouri and a 49-10 rout of Mississippi State, gaining 993 yards of offense in those games.

The Rebels allowed 613 yards, 365 of those on the ground, in a 66-3 shellacking at the hands of top-ranked Alabama last week.

Ole Miss interim coach Matt Luke believes the best approach to playing Auburn is to simplify the play calls on both sides of the ball.

"You take some stuff out where you can just focus and get better and rep the same things," Luke said. "I think the more that you simplify, the faster they get with the plays and the more they will understand what's going on and they can problem-solve on the field.

"We have talented kids, but we also have young kids. I think they have to know exactly what to do so they can go play fast."

Auburn's offense is producing because of some changes on the offensive line, according to coach Gus Malzahn.

The Tigers moved tackle Austin Golson from the right side to the left and Darius James, who had a neck injury against Mercer in the third game of the season, moved to his original spot, starting at right tackle. Sophomore tackle Prince Tega Wanogho no longer starts.

Casey Dunn, a graduate transfer from Jacksonville State, started his second game at center last week.

"Tega's going to be an outstanding player, but we just felt like we'd put a little more experience up there," Malzahn said.

Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson, who has dealt with nagging injuries, rushed for 116 yards and three touchdowns against Mississippi State last week.

Quarterback Jarrett Stidham, a transfer from Baylor, was sacked only twice last week and had time to throw. He completed 13 of 16 pass attempts for 264 yards and two touchdowns. He had four completions of 45 or more yards.

"I think you see him every week getting more and more comfortable," Malzahn said afterward. "We're protecting him well, and the guys are making plays. Our receivers are growing up and they're making plays down the field. I think it's kind of all starting to come together."

Luke is in search of that type of comfort zone for his entire team. He indicated that he and his coaching staff will stick to a limited game plan to make the players feel less inundated.

The offense was held to a season-low 253 yards against Alabama, including 88 on the ground. The Rebels rank last nationally in rushing (74.3 yards per game).

Ole Miss has produced only three points in its last six quarters after averaging 46 points against South Alabama and Tennessee Martin. The Rebels still own the SEC's top passing offense (361.5 yards per game), but the step up in competition has made it more challenging for quarterback Shea Patterson to execute with a running game that is not balancing the production.

The offensive line is banged up, including center Sean Rawlings playing through an ankle injury. The Rebels have allowed eight sacks against their first two Power Five opponents.

Offensive coordinator Phil Longo said the objective is to simplify the calls for his players to maintain a faster flow of execution.

"We have some more direct play calls that don't have maybe quite as many choices as we've had in the past, so maybe we can snap the ball little quicker and make the play a little simpler for our quarterback," Longo said.

Defensively, coordinator Wesley McGriff said a discrepancy exists between what the players learn in the film room and their execution on the field.

The Rebels are allowing almost 10 yards per completion and an SEC-worst 5.3 yards per carry after giving up 7.2 yards per carry against the Crimson Tide. McGriff said he will assess personnel this week and size down the playbook with certain packages.

"I told myself all day (Sunday) and (Sunday) night, 'Don't get bored with calling (the same scheme) 20 times,'" McGriff said.

"Give them a chance to see it against every situation so they can go out and problem solve. We'll reduce it in that way. We may go in with less defense than we like in normal situations, but hopefully we can override that problem and get some production."

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