Ole Miss Football: Rebels' Run Defense Key to Win on the Plains

Seph AndersonCorrespondent IIIOctober 3, 2013

Photo: Seph Anderson
Photo: Seph Anderson

If the No. 24 Ole Miss Rebels hope to improve to 4-1 (2-1 SEC) Saturday evening against Auburn on the Plains, linebacker Serderius Bryant and Co. must slow down a rushing attack averaging 232.2 yards per game (No. 22).

Before taking on No. 1 Alabama, the Rebels' run defense had held FBS opponents to just 125 YPG. However, that was before the Crimson Tide amassed 254 rushing yards on 40 carries (6.4 YPC).

Here's how 2013 FBS opponents have fared against the Ole Miss run defense currently yielding 149.3 YPG (No. 57):

 YPG Rushing by OpponentOpponent NCAA Rushing Offense RankOpponent Rushing Performance vs. Ole Miss
Vanderbilt157.6 YPGNo. 77126 Yards
Texas210.5 YPGNo. 37124 Yards
Alabama162.2 YPGNo. 70254 Yards

While the Rebels head back to the state of Alabama to face yet another solid running attack this weekend, they will square off against a familiar look in the uptempo Auburn offense.

Sep 7, 2013; Auburn, AL, USA; Arkansas State Red Wolves defensive back Sterling Young (11) tackles Auburn Tigers running back Tre Mason (21) during the second half at Jordan Hare Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports
John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Whereas the Tide prefer to line up and play smashmouth football, the Tigers are more "run-and-gun."

Friends and SEC West coaching counterparts Hugh Freeze and Gus Malzahn are disciples of the uptempo, fast-break style of offense. That being said, both defensive units should have received good looks in practice of what they'll encounter Saturday night.

Auburn running back Tre Mason leads the way on the ground for the Tigers, averaging 84.5 YPG and 5.2 YPC. However, there's solid depth behind Mason in RBs Corey Grant (59.8 YPG) and Cameron Artis-Payne (51.8).

Then there's dual-threat quarterback Nick Marshall, averaging 37 YPG rushing.

All of this being said, the Ole Miss defense can't get caught napping for a single play.

Even when Mason takes a breather here and there, offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee has ample firepower on the ground. In the Tigers' 31-24 win over Washington State to open the year, Grant rallied off 146 rushing yards (including a 75-yard score). He's yet another weapon in the Auburn backfield.

Here's how the Auburn run game has stacked up against opposing run defenses this fall:

 Opponent Run Defense AverageOpponent NCAA Run Defense RankAuburn Run Performance vs. Opponent Run Defense
Washington State 164.8 YPG No. 73 295 Yards
Arkansas State 198.2 YPG No. 98 301 Yards
Mississippi State 120.3 YPG No. 31 120 Yards
LSU 148.2 YPG No. 55 213 Yards

Saturday night on the Plains, Ole Miss will learn a great deal about its own run defense.

Will the Rebels' run defense step up and play like it did against Vandy and Texas, proving the 254-yard rushing performance by the Crimson Tide was more of an anomaly, or will a talented group of Auburn running backs put 200-plus rushing yards on the Rebels for a second straight week?

We'll find out soon enough.