Auburn vs. Ole Miss: Why The Rebels Will Rip The Tigers

Kevin StricklandCorrespondent IOctober 30, 2009

The Ole Miss Rebels have the one thing the ailing Auburn Tigers don't need to see as they attempt to rectify the issues that have helped plummet Auburn from an exhilarating 5-0 start to the confounding 5-3 record the team sports today: a strong defense.

On second thought make that a defense of any kind.

Over the last three weeks Auburn's offense has regressed. It flopped on the road at Arkansas, failed to generate any pop against a nondescript Kentucky defense and then went into a shell at LSU.

In the last eight quarters of football, Auburn has scored two offensive touchdowns and one of those was a meaningless garbage-time score in the waning seconds against LSU.

The Ole Miss defense the Tigers will face on Saturday is better than Kentucky's. It's better than LSU's. It's better than Arkansas'.

That's bad news for an offense that's lost its identity.

How far gone is the Auburn offense? It was pictured on milk cartons last week.

The Tiger defense, porous from the outset in 2009, continues to leak profusely.

Auburn's defense made struggling LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson look like a Heisman contender. By the time last season's media darling Jevan Snead of Ole Miss is through Saturday he'll be back in the Heisman conversation, too.

Auburn doesn't have the defense to shut down an improving Ole Miss offense. If the last three weeks are any indication, the Tigers don't have the offensive chutzpah to overpower the Rebel defense.

If the Tiger offense can yank its head out of its collective, well, you know what,  then Auburn will have a puncher's chance against Ole Miss. That chance will still rest largely on the defense being able to unnerve Snead and force him into mistakes. 

Based on prior experience, neither is likely.

Snead will have a career day picking apart the Auburn defense as it lays back in near prevent mode. He'll have enough time in the pocket to send a few Tweets, check his Facebook status, grill some hamburger,s and wait for the children of his receivers to grow up, graduate from high school, get recruited, get signed, and suit up for the Rebels.

Meanwhile the Auburn offense will complete nearly 70 percent of its passes if you count balls that are launched into the sidelines, balls that bounce eight feet in front of receivers, balls that sail into wide expanses of grass where no human is with in 20 yards and balls that are thrown to the opposition as completions.

Auburn's defensive issues are not new. They have been evident since the first game of the season if anyone had taken the time to look.

The Tigers' offensive decline is a fairly recent phenomenon.

The reasons behind Auburn's offensive implosion over the last three games have been hashed and rehashed ad nauseum.

Thousands of hours and gallons of virtual ink have been wasted as observers and analysts attempted to make sense of the complete reversal in offensive effectiveness.

How is it possible for the same team that abused a stout Tennessee defense for more than 400 yards to only manage 42 in the first half against a less accomplished LSU stopping unit? 

The problem is that when you start trying to point fingers at the possible causes, you run out of hands pretty quickly. 

Ineffective quarterback play?  Check.

Tiger signal caller Chris Todd could hardly have played worse in the last three games. A blind marsupial would have been just as effective.

He's resurrected the hesitant, unsure mistake-prone Todd from 2008 and left the confident, accurate and effective Todd that emerged through five games in 2009 behind. 

Not only has he failed to make the throws he routinely made over the first five weeks, but his decision-making has been questionable at best. He's contributed to fumbles and delay of game penalties. He's gone from being calm under pressure to panicking at the first sign of a rush.

There is rampant speculation that Todd re-injured his rehabilitated shoulder, but there has been no official or unofficial confirmation that he is, in fact, injured.

If Todd is ailing physically and unable to perform, he shouldn't be on the field. It's difficult to believe that backup Neil Caudle could perform any worse than Todd has to this point.

Fatigue? Check.

Auburn plays eleven straight weeks without a break. The fatigue justification loses some steam when you consider that over the last three weeks Auburn played better in the second half than it did the first. 

Injury? Check.

In addition to the widely-rumored injury to Todd's throwing shoulder tailback Onterrio McCalebb tweaked an ankle in a poorly designed, poorly executed and poorly timed fake punt attempt.

The freshman who set rushing records in the first two weeks of the season hasn't been the same since.  If you doubt that watch him dart for the sidelines and fail to pick up three or four open yards rather than taking a hit from a pursuing safety.

Lack of continuity? Check.

Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn's offensive schemes are predicated on speed. When the Tigers are shuttling between regular quarterback Todd and designated 'wildcat' Kodi Burns, some of that is sacrificed. Both Todd and Burns suffer from a lack of continuity and have found it difficult to get into game rhythm.

No more surprises? Check.

Some of Auburn's early offensive success was based on the fact that teams weren't really sure what the Tigers were going to do.  Five weeks of film in the can and most of the cats were out of the bag.

As Chizik himself noted, once you get four or five weeks into the season, you're not going to fool anybody.  You've then got to out-execute the opposition. That isn't happening.

Auburn's offense has become stale, boring and completely predictable. Part of that is a lack of execution as when Todd fails to pull the trigger and misses open receivers.

Penalties? In bunches.

Penalties against Kentucky killed two critical drives. Flags against LSU slaughtered momentum.

The list is never ending.

The reality is that none of those simple explanations are sufficient to explain the utter and total collapse of the Auburn offense.

In truth, the offensive meltdown is likely a complex combination of all of the above plus a variety of other factors that haven't even been considered.

Therein lies the problem.

If you could pin the problems that have plagued the Auburn offense as it sought to regain the swagger that characterized the first five games on one thing, the coaching staff would have a better chance of resolving that issue and restoring the roar.

But it's not one thing. It's a little of everything. For that reason, the odds of resurrection are slim and the likelihood of another SEC beatdown are high.

Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs has dubbed Saturday's SEC showdown the "Navy Nightmare" and asked fans to wear blue instead of the current "All Auburn, All Orange" trend.

Unfortunately, that didn't even work out for Auburn. Auburn's recent slide caused the TV schedulers to look at other possibilities for the marquee games. Three weeks ago, this was an easy choice for one of the ESPN night starts. Now? The game kicks off before noon.  It's not a night game, so the nightmare theme loses much of its punch.

If Auburn conjures up the ghost of the team that started 5-0, this could be an interesting match. If the Tigers play like the zombies they've been the last three weeks, it will be a Halloween nightmare on the Plains.


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