Can the Tigers overpower the Ole Miss front again?
(Photo by Acid Reign.)
War Eagle, everybody! It’s time now for another Auburn opponent preview. On November 1st, the Tigers head to Oxford, Mississippi to take on the Ole Miss Rebels. After a couple of winning seasons under third year head coach Hugh Freeze, many Rebel fans are expecting to take the next step, and compete for a division title this year. Back to back top ten recruiting classes fuel this optimism, but Ole Miss plays in the SEC Western Division, and will have to run a gauntlet that includes 3 teams that have been to the BCS Championship game in the past 5 years.
If the Rebels are to win 10 games or more this season, the schedule will be a big reason. The Rebels draw Vanderbilt and Tennessee from the East, arguably the two worst teams in that division this year. The Rebel season opens in Atlanta on a late August Thursday night, against Boise State. This could be a dangerous game, as Georgia found out in a loss 3 years ago. The Rebels then travel to Vanderbilt, then host Louisiana Lafayette before a bye week. After the bye, it’s Memphis for a tune-up, then a five week grind. The Rebels have Alabama at home, Texas A&M on the road, Tennessee at home, LSU on the road, then Auburn at home. Auburn gets the Rebs at a good time, after 5 straight SEC games. Auburn will have played Arkansas and San Jose State at home, Kansas State on the road, Louisiana Tech for homecoming, then LSU. The Tigers have a bye week, then South Carolina at home before traveling to Oxford.
The Rebel offense looks to become more consistent in 2014, with one of the few returning starting quarterbacks in the league in Bo Wallace. Wallace captained one of the more prolific offenses in Ole Miss history last season, but there were dry spells at bad times. The Rebels lose leading receivers Donte Moncrief and Ja-Mes Logan, as well as the dangerous runner Jeff Scott. More concerning is shuffling and youth on the offensive line. The Rebels have recruited talent on the line, it’s just a matter of getting this unit to gel. A low-scoring 15-12 spring game seems to indicate that there were still issues at the end of the spring game. Wallace will have some speed and talent around him, including returning receiver Laquon Treadwell and the top two rushers I’Tavius Mathers and Jalen Walton.
The Ole Miss defense was decent in 2013, and figures to be better in 2014, as they lose only linebacker Mike Marry and corner Charles Sawyer in terms of significant players. The Rebels have a deep secondary that picked off 13 balls last season, while allowing only 10 touchdown passes. Where the Rebels had difficulty was with the pass rush. Last year, the Rebels tallied only 20 sacks in 13 games. By comparison, Auburn had 32. The Rebels hope to shore up the outside rush with incoming signees Fadol Brown and Marquise Haynes.
Like Auburn, Ole Miss loses both kickers, and will have to reload this season. The Rebels were respectable in coverage last year, but generated very little in the return game. Jeff Scott was the primary punt returner last season, and the Rebels have no one returning with any significant experience. The Rebels have some work to do in the coming months on special teams.
Unit matchups, after the jump!
Auburn defensive line vs. Ole Miss offensive line: Auburn’s final starting lineup next fall is a bit up in the air, at this point. I’d expect senior Gabe Wright to start somewhere, either at tackle or end. Expect tackles Angelo Blackson, Jeffery Whitaker, Montravius Adams, and Ben Bradley to all play prominent roles. LaDarius Owens will likely anchor the run-stopping end spot, with Elijah Daniels now the likely rush end starter. Carl Lawson is coming off spring knee surgery, and the latest word is that he might or might not play at all, in 2014. There is room for newcomers to make an impact at end, especially on passing downs. Talented sophomore Laremy Tunsil will again start at left tackle for the Rebels, after being thrown to the wolves last season. The interior of the Ole Miss line is one of the heaviest in football, with juniors Aaron Morris and Justin Bell at guards, and junior Ben Still at center. Morris and Bell tip the scales at 345 and 352 pounds, respectively. One has to ask, though, is all of this good weight? Sophomore Robert Conyers is penciled-in at right tackle, but coaches are hoping JUCO transfer Fahn Cooper will compete there right away this fall. With three new Rebel starters here, it’s Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn linebackers vs. Ole Miss backs: Auburn’s starting linebackers coming out of spring drills are juniors Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy. Both are veteran, athletic SEC players, looking to make the next move up. Ole Miss has its top two rushing leaders back, juniors I’Tavius Mathers and Jalen Walton. Mathers is a typical 190-pound SEC back, while Walton is only around 160. Auburn contained both of those guys pretty well last season on defense. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn corners vs. Ole Miss receivers: Auburn is again fairly deep at corner, with veteran Jonathan Mincy hopefully locking down one spot, and either junior Joshua Holsey or junior Jonathan Jones at the other spot. Senior converted wide receiver Trovon Reed also looked pretty good in spring drills here. Auburn should be able to run with any receiving corps, and play physical run defense on the edges. Sophomore Laquon Treadwell led Ole Miss with 72 receptions last season, many of them on quick screens. He looks to be the headliner, this year. Right now, the other side looks to be manned by seniors Vince Sanders or Collins Moore. The Rebels do have some talented newcomers reporting in August. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn safeties vs. Ole Miss secondary receivers and quarterback: Senior Jermaine Whitehead anchors one spot here, and Auburn will feature either junior Joshua Holsey, or JUCO transfer Derrick Moncrief at the other position. Moncrief was a beast in spring drills, this year, and Holsey is a veteran. At tight end, sophomore Evan Ingram is a quick one, and difficult to guard one on one. The Rebels have moved sophomore Quincy Adeboyejo to the slot receiver spot, and he’ll be spelled by junior Quintavius Burdette. Bo Wallace was dangerous last season as both a thrower and runner, when he was healthy. Against Auburn last season, he had a knack for throwing to covered receivers, and placing the ball where the Ole Miss receivers could still make the catch. Ole Miss did try to have Wallace keep up the middle against Auburn a dozen or so times last season, and that tended to kill drives. Advantage: Even.
Punting: Auburn must start a new punter, here, going with redshirt freshman Jimmy Hutchenson, who had a really solid A-Day game. Tyler Campbell is gone from the Rebel roster, and the new starting punter is redshirt freshman Will Gleeson, who reputedly has a very strong leg. Auburn gave up only 5 returns all last season, for 35 yards. Ole Miss gave up 17 for an 8.3 yard average. Both teams are still trying to find punt returners. The Rebels have listed junior Carlos Davis as their top guy, while Auburn’s most experienced returning punt returner is senior Quan Bray. Advantage: Auburn.
Kickoffs: Auburn must replace veteran kicker Cody Parkey, and will do it with redshirt freshman Daniel Carlson. Ole Miss replaces Andrew Ritter with sophomore Nathan Noble on kickoffs. On coverage, Ole Miss gave up 21.9 yards per return, while Auburn gave up 25.8. Auburn senior Corey Grant ripped off 5 returns for a 32.0 yard average for Auburn as the top guy coming back. Jalen Walton handled 25 kick returns last season for Ole Miss, for a 20.6 yard average. Advantage: Even.
Place kicking: Auburn redshirt freshman Daniel Carlson is the man for Auburn. He hit a monster 51 yard field goal this year in the Auburn A-Day game, but also missed an extra point. Ole Miss will call upon senior Andrew Fletcher this season for place-kicking. Advantage: Even.
Auburn offensive line vs. Ole Miss defensive line: Auburn returns 4 starters on a road-grading, violent offensive line. Greg Robinson moves on to the NFL, but Auburn has talent to replace him. From left to right, it’s sophomore Shon Coleman, sophomore Alex Kozan, senior all-SEC Reese Dismukes, senior Chad Slade, and sophomore Avery Young, with junior Patrick Miller still in the hunt to perhaps unseat one of the tackles for a starting job. Inside, Ole Miss could be scary this season, if talented sophomore tackle Robert Nkemdiche stays healthy. At the nose tackle spot, juniors Issac Gross and Woodrow Hamilton are neck and neck. Likely defensive end starters are sophomore Fadol Brown and junior C. J. Johnson, with young talent coming in to add to the mix. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn backs vs. Ole Miss linebackers: Although Auburn lost Heisman finalist Tre Mason early to the NFL draft, Auburn should be fine here with seniors Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant. Grant was this year’s A-Day star, looking even more explosive and unstoppable. Add in a corps of talented newcomers, and it’s no secret Auburn will be able to tote the rock again this season. H-back is a bit thinner. Senior blocking specialist Brandon Fulse moves from end/receiver to take over the starting nod, but depth behind him is questionable. Senior Deterrian Shackelford gives Ole Miss a veteran presence in the middle, and senior Serderius Bryant is experienced on the outside. At the Rebel Huskie spot will be sophomore Tony Conner. Look for junior Denzel Nkemdiche to play a lot, also. Advantage: Last season, the Ole Miss defense hemmed in Tre Mason pretty well, but had no answer for the zone-read keeper with Nick Marshall. Advantage: Even.
Auburn receivers vs. Ole Miss corners: Auburn juniors Sammie Coates and Ricardo Louis developed into one of the more dangerous receiving duos in the SEC, last season. Add in monster transfer D’haquille Williams, and this unit became downright scary this spring, with lots of depth behind the big three. Senior Senquez Golson has played a lot of ball for Ole Miss, and they’ve got a competition at the field spot between sophomore Derrick Jones and junior Mike Hilton. Jones has pretty good size, but the other two guys will be at a height disadvantage against Auburn’s trio. Advantage: Even.
Auburn secondary receivers and quarterback vs. Ole Miss safeties: Auburn senior tight end C. J. Uzomah is a nightmare for safeties to cover. When Auburn needed to go to him late in games last season, C. J. was there every time to haul in the score. Auburn also has senior Quan Bray in the equation, who’s been the career quick screen guy. When guys start to clamp down on him, he can get open down the field. Auburn returns senior quarterback Nick Marshall, and he’s easily the most dangerous guy returning at the position in the SEC this fall. With a spring spent working on a shaky passing game, the sky’s the limit this fall. Marshall was devastating running the zone-read option last fall, and put up 140 rushing yards on the Rebel defense. Ole Miss is talented at safety, and will start junior Trae Elston and senior Cody Prewitt. Prewitt was second on the team last season in tackles, and had 6 interception. Marshall will have to know where Prewitt is at all times! Advantage: Even.
This is a dangerous game for Auburn, make no mistake. The Tigers haven’t had an easy time in Oxford in decades. However, I think the Rebels may be a bit beat up by this point of the season, and will be fresh off a trip to Baton Rouge. I feel like Auburn on defense can win most position battles with Ole Miss, but they’ve got to keep Rebel receivers from making the catch and turning short balls into big plays. Ole Miss matches up with Auburn on defense as well as any team Auburn will have faced to date.
I’m tempted to pick a lower-scoring outcome in this game, but recent history has Auburn and Ole Miss combining for 50 or more points the past 5 seasons. Not since Tommy Tuberville and Houston Nutt prowled the sidelines has this game been a defensive struggle. This will be an important game for both teams. A loss to Auburn would likely be the third or fourth of the season for Ole Miss, and would definitely end any division hopes. Auburn hopes to win the West again, and any loss would be trouble in a very competitive division.
Prediction: Auburn controls the line of scrimmage on defense, and the secondary does a better job playing the ball than last season. The Tigers grind out a 27-20 victory on the road.