It’s Time to Step UP, Tigers!
Auburn’s biggest SEC win last season was over Ole Miss.
War Eagle, everybody! This week, we are steaming toward the halfway point of the season. Auburn takes on Ole Miss in Oxford, as a touchdown underdog to a team that has lost its last 16 SEC games. We thought we didn’t get much respect in 2010, but we had no clue what was in the cards this year! Being an underdog to Ole Miss makes me ill under ANY circumstances, and think that the Tigers must wake up and make those taking that bet pay for it!
These teams meet up with similar squads from the previous matchup. Auburn won that game 41-23, but a lot of the stats were similar between the two teams. Auburn had 20 first downs, Ole Miss had 21. Auburn had 160 passing yards, Ole Miss had 162. Punting averages, total yards, and turnovers were all pretty even. How did Auburn win by 18 points?
The answer was pretty simple. The offensive line and Michael Dyer imposed their will on the Ole Miss defense. The Tigers ran the ball 50 times, and Dyer had 178 yards. There were a few big play throws by Clint Moseley, but he only passed 15 times in the game, hitting 12. Ole Miss is quick and aggressive up front on defense, and they slant and take chances quite a bit. However, their starting front four only averages about 260 pounds per man. Auburn’s offensive line averages 300 pounds per man. Ole Miss’ back seven only averages 195 pounds per man, facing Auburn blockers like Brandon Fulse, Phillip Lutzenkirchen, and Jay Prosch, who average 255. The Tigers must pound the ball, and not throw it two thirds of the time.
I may be in the distinct minority, but I felt like benching Khiel Frazier at the half last week did no one any good. He was under pressure, and took four sacks he didn’t need to take, but the man hit 9 of 14 passes, for 118 yards, and had a couple of them dropped. That’s a 64 percent completion rate, and 8.4 yards per pass. If he had passed at that rate on the season, he’d be in the top five quarterbacks in the SEC. He’s had the vast majority of the first team reps in practice, and I think it’s folly to look elsewhere. Sure, if the coaches have become convinced he’ll never get better, then go ahead and pull him. But I don’t think you can decide that after a 9 for 14 half.
We’ve been screaming it every week, but I think Tre Mason needs to at least triple his carries from the past few weeks, and he needs to have Jay Prosch and Brandon Fulse in the game leading him. We need a few things to keep the defense from sending 10 men in the box, and the single run Prosch had last week was a good start. A back-side belly play to the fullback can really gash a slanting defense. Fulse is wide open every time he runs a route, too. Wouldn’t be hard to dump him a little pass in the flat every now and then.
I watched extensive minutes of Ole Miss stunting on Alabama’s good offensive line a few weeks ago, and became convinced that what Alabama needed to do to those guys who kept darting into the backfield was to run the old 49ers “Wham” play. The gist of this play is for a lineman to intentionally whiff on a block, and let his man speed into the backfield. Then a wingback or fullback cracks back to the middle and drills the defender from the side, or behind. This sometimes results in a big play for either side, but that lineman won’t be as quick to jump in there if he’s still seeing stars on the next play. This play also leaves two offensive linemen barreling forward to block linebackers up the gut.
Defensively, it’s a tough task ahead for the Tigers. I’ve read lots of columnists erroneously call Ole Miss an AirRaid offense. It’s really more akin to what Gus Malzhan ran at Auburn the past three seasons. Ole Miss throws the ball, or at least pretends that they are going to throw the ball, because they really don’t have a bruising inside running presence. Speedster Jeff Scott leads Ole Miss with 85 yards per game, but the next three leading rushers are quarterbacks Randall Mackey (mostly wildcat), Bo Wallace, and Barry Brunetti. In a typical game, Ole Miss runs the ball about two thirds of the time, with the quarterbacks getting at least half the carries. They’ll throw it, but many of those throws are to the flat, unless they are passing to Dontae Moncrief. Moncrief is averaging 16.8 yards per catch, and he’s the Rebel’s best chance to take it to the house. Ole Miss has nine passing touchdowns on the season, and Moncrief has five of them.
The Rebels have a good-sized offensive line, with mostly junior and senior starters. Auburn will have to have improved play up front, because the Rebel quarterbacks love to take off up the middle when they get the defense spread out. It’s tough to get pressure on the Rebels, because their quarterbacks like to get rid of it quickly, or take off. It’s important for Auburn’s speedy ends to not lose hope when they don’t get there, like last week. They’ve instead got to set the edge, and have good contain. If that QB’s arm goes back, the linemen should get their hands in the air and try to make it as difficult a throw as possible.
Ole Miss is one of those no-huddle, “pace” teams that likes to run a lot of plays. They’ve had some success wearing defenses down that way, but they haven’t ran quite as many plays as coach Freeze likes, averaging 72 plays per game. Auburn had problems getting lined up in time last week on defense, and I think Ole Miss will try to exploit that. I think at 1-4 on the season, Auburn’s got to do what they must to slow that thing down. We’re rotating defensive ends frequently, and if it were up to me, we’d see those guys cramping constantly. That’s certainly how teams are battling Oregon and West Virginia, strategy-wise.
Lost in the disaster of the Arkansas game was that Auburn’s secondary had a pretty good tackling game, and will need to again. There’s a big emphasis on not letting Moncrief get deep, but after that, coming up and making the tackle before the receiver gains big yardage is going to be important.
Auburn has good special teams, but the Rebels are really good kicking the ball as well. One of the more inexplicable moves this week is the announcement that Onterio McCalebb will not be a starting kick returner, despite leading the league. Quan Bray and Tre Mason will handle that task. I guess that’s McCalebb’s price for dropping the ball last week in the end zone.
Make no mistake, this may be Auburn’s biggest game of the year. Lose to the Rebels, and a bowl bid becomes a long shot. And this team sorely needs the extra practice even a BBVA Compass Bowl provides. Should the Tigers lose to both Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, the questions about the coaches’ futures will become howls. From where I sat in the stands last Saturday, I was very proud of the Auburn faithful for not booing. However, there was a whole lot of grumbling, and I was one of the worst offenders!
Saturday morning, we’ll have another open thread, as is our tradition. I’ll be back at the keyboard, with my usual histrionics. I’m looking forward to putting this new platform through its paces, and cheering our Tigers on to victory. The game’s bright and early at 11:21 AM on the SEC network. Check your local listings. War Eagle, and see you Saturday!