Ole Miss vs. Auburn: 10 Things We Learned from the Tigers' Win
To think Auburn, a team coming off a three-win season, would be able to knock off a ranked opponent in 2013 seemed like wishful thinking. But that's exactly what the Tigers did Saturday night against No. 24 Ole Miss, holding on for dear life to defeat the Rebels 30-22.
Despite 336 passing yards from Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace, the Rebels had trouble executing when they got into the red zone, and that wound up being the difference in the game. Auburn quarterback and junior college recruit Nick Marshall got it done with his legs rather than his arm, rushing for 140 yards and two touchdowns.
It was the Tigers' front four that was the true MVP of this game, stuffing Ole Miss in pivotal moments throughout the game despite much more time on the field than the Rebels' defense.
The win brings Auburn to 4-1 while Ole Miss drops to 3-2 and essentially out of the SEC West race. Aside from that, here are 10 things we learned from the Tigers' gutsy victory over the Rebels.
Auburn Is One-Dimensional on Offense
Somehow, despite only throwing for 93 yards, the Tigers were able to find ample success running the football. They were fortunate quarterback Nick Marshall didn't get hurt until the fourth quarter, because once he lost his ability to run the football, Auburn's offense became stagnant.
But because of Marshall's rushing prowess, it gave the Tigers' offense a different dimension. It became evident early on that throwing the football down the field wasn't going to work, so Marshall began keeping the football more, and the result was some dazzling plays.
Even still, when Auburn is forced to go up against teams like Alabama and Georgia, not being able to throw the football simply isn't going to fly. The Tigers were lucky to escape with a victory over the Rebels despite the inability to throw the football.
The Game Is Slowing Down for Nick Marshall
Entering the game, Nick Marshall had a completion percentage under 60, had as many touchdowns as interceptions and didn't have a game in which he rushed for more than 53 yards.
Well, Marshall wasn't asked to do much with his arm against Ole Miss, but as the game went along, you could see he was becoming more comfortable keeping the football and making plays with his feet. Marshall busted out multiple big plays in exciting fashion, although his frequent rushing wound up hurting him—literally—in the end.
It's not as if he performed all that poorly throwing the ball, either. Sure, he missed a few throws, but his receivers didn't help him much, either, dropping a few passes. We've seen Marshall top 300 yards passing before, so we know he has it in him. Tonight we saw him grow into a true dual-threat quarterback.
The Front Four Is Beastly
Holy smokes did the Auburn defensive line get after it against Ole Miss.
It seemed like on every third down for the Rebels, someone would come up big from the Tigers' front four. Dee Ford and Carl Lawson came through on several different occasions, fighting their way into the Ole Miss backfield to either record a sack of Bo Wallace or stuff a runner foolishly trying to make his way up the middle.
In all, the Tigers recorded six sacks and 14 tackles for a loss, and a vast majority of those came from the defensive line.
Because of the success of Auburn's front four, more men could be committed to trying to slow Wallace and the Ole Miss passing attack, and despite spending more time on the field than was to be expected, the Tigers had enough energy to step up and get the job done time and time again.
Robenson Therezie Is a Playmaker
Before Week 6 play, Auburn cornerback Robenson Therezie led the team in interceptions and tackles.
He added to his interception total when he broke across Laquon Treadwell's route and intercepted Bo Wallace in stride, taking it to the house for a 78-yard touchdown return. It was a huge play, as Ole Miss was driving and without it, the Tigers may very well end up on the wrong side of the result.
It's no small feat for a cornerback to lead a team in tackles, and while you can joke that it's a result of Therezie tackling the receiver he was supposed to be covering in the first place, it's apparent that he has great ball instincts. That won't go unnoticed when he's trying to make it at the next level.
The Secondary Is a Concern
Yes, Therezie made a game-changing play that wound up ultimately being the difference, but he was also a member of a secondary that got torched by Ole Miss' Bo Wallace.
The two interceptions were without a doubt crucial—the first one coming from Auburn's best cover corner, and the second one being a beautiful leaping catch by linebacker Ryan Smith. But if you take away those forced turnovers, the numbers aren't pretty and there were several big plays allowed by the Auburn defensive backfield.
Wallace threw for 336 yards, and even with the Rebels getting pressure by solely rushing their front four, it didn't appear to aid the secondary as much as it should have. That has to be concerning moving forward as Auburn ventures into the depths of the SEC schedule.
Auburn Has Made Huge Strides as a Program
When Gus Malzahn took over this program before the 2013 season, it wasn't only in rebuilding mode—it was a program attempting to shed some baggage and get its feet back under it.
The Tigers only won three games in 2012 just a few years removed from a national championship, and that spelled the end for Gene Chizik. Malzahn was an assistant under Chizik for three years, and in just one season with Arkansas State, he won 10 games before taking his current position with the Tigers.
Well, Auburn has already won four games after its upset of the No. 24 Ole Miss Rebels, and considering the remaining schedule, there is almost no chance the Tigers miss returning to a bowl game. That is an incredible leap and shows just how good of a coach Malzahn is as he has helped Auburn make big strides in a very short period of time.
Sammie Coates Needs Someone to Get Him the Ball
Perhaps tonight was an anomaly. Auburn was having so much success running the football that it essentially abandoned the pass, and that meant wide receiver Sammie Coates' night was over before it really began.
The Tigers' leading receiver only caught two passes for 13 yards against Ole Miss, but it could have been a lot more if Nick Marshall was able to hit him on a deep ball. Coates had his man beat, but Marshall's throw was out of his reach, and that was basically the last we saw of the 6'2" sophomore.
He's a great talent and had over 300 yards receiving through four games, far more than any other player on Auburn's roster. Even if the Tigers are going to be a team that heavily relies on pounding the rock, Coates deserves more targets and a larger role in the offense than what he saw against the Rebels.
Tre Mason Does the Dirty Work
Tre Mason does it all for the Tigers.
When you account for his return yards, receiving yards and rushing yards, Mason totaled 192 all-purpose yards. He led Auburn in receiving, catching the biggest pass of the game for the Tigers on a 34-yard swing pass out of the backfield.
But when it comes to carrying the football, that's when Mason really gets down and dirty, surging up the middle when quarterback Nick Marshall elects to hand it off to him. Mason gained 77 hard-earned yards running the football on 21 carries and also punched it in for six once.
Mason's success in turn led to Marshall's success carrying the football, and considering all that he is capable of, he might be the most valuable piece to this Auburn offense.
Carl Lawson Had His Coming out Party
There's a reason Carl Lawson was one of the most coveted defensive ends coming out of high school, and that reason was on full display against Ole Miss on Saturday night.
Time after time after time, Lawson blasted his way through the Rebels offensive line to make a big play. He would have forced multiple punts, but Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze doesn't believe in punting the ball, so at times his plays were rendered useless.
Even so, Lawson stood out the most from Auburn's impressive defensive line, and the freshman not only had two sacks, but also 3.5 tackles for a loss and six tackles in all. He was one of three players to account for at least two sacks and three tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
Did we mention he's only a freshman?
Cassanova McKinzy Is OK
Winning or losing a football game seems pretty insignificant when you consider the scene that took place at the end of the first quarter.
Auburn linebacker Cassanova McKinzy was coming in to make a hit on Bo Wallace when he fell awkwardly into Wallace's hip. After McKinzy fell to the ground, he lifted his head to see the result of the play, but then laid lifeless, leading to something you never want to see at a sporting event—the stretcher coming out onto the field.
After halftime, the news was that McKinzy was transported to a local hospital, where it was determined he had suffered a neck injury but that he was able to move all of his extremities. In the fourth quarter, the linebacker was standing on the sideline, walking around and rooting on his team.
It was just about the best news we could have hoped for, and hope McKinzy can make a speedy recovery and quick return to the gridiron.