Road Tripping to Oxford (Previewing Auburn at Ole Miss)
It has been an up and down decade for Ole Miss
War Eagle, everybody! It’s time now for another Auburn game preview! On October 20th, Auburn will face the Ole Miss Rebels on the road in Oxford, Mississippi. Ole Miss will be serving another year of sanctions thanks to the antics of the former coaching staff, and it’s anyone’s guess what the mindset will be by game 8 of the season. As an interim coach last season, Matt Luke was able to keep Ole Miss’ spirits up and salvaged a 6–6 season from a pretty dismal start. It will be interesting to see how the program does in Luke’s first season as the full-time head coach.
Ole Miss opens the season in Houston, Texas against Texas Tech. These are two big-time passing teams, pitted against each another in possibly the darkest and dimmest stadium in the nation. The Red Raiders are playing for head coach Cliff Kingsbury’s job, while Ole Miss can just let it fly this year. Ole Miss tunes up the following week at home against Southern Illinois before hosting defending national champ Alabama. Ole Miss can recover a bit the next week against Kent State before hitting the road to LSU. Ole Miss returns home for homecoming against an improving Louisiana Monroe squad and visits Arkansas before hosting Auburn. Auburn will have played Washington in Atlanta and hosted Alabama State, LSU, Arkansas and Southern Miss before traveling to Mississippi State. Auburn then hosts Tennessee and heads to Oxford to play Ole Miss.
Hugh Freeze may be gone, but his vision of offense will likely live on in Oxford. The past half decade, the Rebels were known for lighting up opposing secondaries while being suspect in the ground game. This season, high hopes are being pinned on junior college transfer running back Scottie Phillips, who begins fall drills at the top of the depth chart ahead of incumbents Eric Swinney and Isaiah Woullard. Ole Miss has a solid, veteran line and great receivers returning, led by a trio of great ones in AJ Brown, DeMarkus Lodge and D. K. Metcalf. Quarterback Jordan Ta’amu did surprisingly well last season, coming in after a season-ending injury to starter Shea Patterson. Ta’amu actually had better numbers by season’s end.
Ole Miss was known as a solid defense under Hugh Freeze, but that image took some hits last season, and most of the team’s pass rushing specialists are now gone. Ole Miss gave up almost 3,000 rushing yards last year in just 12 games, with opponents averaging 5.4 yards per carry and 245 yards per game. There were only 4 teams in the FBS in the the entire country that gave up more total yards than Ole Miss, which allowed 459 yards per contest. Defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff returns from the previous staff and has his work cut out this season.
Ole Miss returns middle-of-the pack special teams coverage units and was effective last season returning kicks with junior Jaylon Jones. However, Ole Miss must replace a pair of really good legs as kicker Gary Wunderlich and punter Will Gleeson depart. Ole Miss appears to have replacements in place, but we have yet to see how they’ll do under fire this season.
Unit matchups after the jump!
Auburn defensive line vs. Ole Miss offensive line: Auburn brings a big, athletic defensive line back this season. Likely starters at tackle are senior Dontavius Russell and junior Derrick Brown. Junior strong-side end Marlon Davidson was a beast on A-Day. The buck side is a rotation between sophomores TD Moultry and Big Kat Bryant. Auburn can play monster sophomore Nick Coe at any position on the line with great results. Auburn has serious depth all across the line as well. From left to right, Ole Miss will likely go with junior Gregory Little, senior Javon Patterson, senior Sean Rawlings at center, senior Jordan Sims and junior Alex Givens. Last season, these guys had a ton of trouble containing Auburn’s starting front. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn linebackers vs. Ole Miss backs: The Tigers have a good cross-trained quartet of upper echelon SEC-caliber linebackers. Senior Deshaun Davis leads the bunch, seniors Darrell Williams and Montravious Atkinson are able to play all three positions, and we might see any combination of these players out on the field at a given time. Auburn has lots of depth behind the starters as well. Auburn’s linebackers play with leverage and are sure tacklers. Junior college transfer junior Scottie Phillips is listed as the starting runner, and he’ll be pushed by junior Eric Swinney. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn corners vs. Ole Miss receivers: Auburn has a fairly good combination of starting corners in juniors Javaris Davis and Jamel Dean. Junior Jeremiah Dinson could move over from safety if needed. Sophomore converted wide receiver Noah Igbinoghene turned heads this spring and could be a co-starter on either side. John Broussard Jr. provides quality depth. Ole Miss has arguably the best returning receiving corps in the SEC with lots of speed and size. Senior DeMarkus Lodge and sophomore DeKaylin Metcalf should be superb, and there is depth behind them. Advantage: Ole Miss.
Auburn safeties vs. Ole Miss secondary receivers and quarterback: Auburn’s starting unit features juniors Jeremiah Dinson and Daniel Thomas at safety. Thomas was an experienced backup last season, and Dinson played nickel back. Dinson can play every position in the secondary well but has missed considerable time with injuries over the past 3 seasons. Sophomore Jordyn Peters is listed as Auburn’s top nickel back as of now. Auburn is very young behind the starters. Junior A. J. Brown is the top option at slot receiver for the Rebels, and junior tight end Dawson Knox had 24 catches last season in a crowded receiver corps. At quarterback, senior Jordan Ta’amu had some pretty good numbers off the bench last season. He piled up 1,682 passing yards in just 8 games and also contributed 165 rushing yards and 4 scores on the ground. Advantage: Ole Miss.
Punting: For now, sophomore Aiden Marshall is the starter, backed up by Ian Shannon. Both were inconsistent last year and didn’t do much to impress in Auburn’s A-Day game in bad weather. Australian import Arryn Siposs is expected to come in and win the starting punting job this fall. Last season, Shannon averaged 39.8 yards per punt, and Marshall averaged 39.4. Ole Miss will be punting with sophomore Mac Brown, who punted 5 times last season for a 42.2 yard average. Neither team was very good in punt coverage last season. Ole Miss gave up 9.9 yards per return, while Auburn gave up 11.4. Auburn is still trying to find a punt returner for this season. Ole Miss returns A. J. Brown, who had 7 returns for 47 yards last season. Advantage: Ole Miss.
Kickoffs: Auburn redshirt freshman Anders Carlson has no experience, but with his displayed leg strength on A-Day, I think kicking a lot of touchbacks should be a given next season. Also, there is a new fair catch rule in effect this season that puts the ball at the 25. I think we will see a lot of fair catches on anything fielded inside the 5. Sophomore Luke Logan will again handle kickoffs for Ole Miss, after booting 25 touchbacks on 76 kickoffs last season. Auburn will return kickoffs with sophomore Noah Igbinoghene, who averaged 23.8 yards per return last season despite only fair-to-poor blocking. Ole Miss returners are led by junior Jaylon Jones, who averaged 25.0 yards per return last season. Auburn was awful on kick coverage giving up 27.2 yards per return last season. Fortunately, Carlson can produce a lot of touchbacks. Ole Miss allowed 20.4 yards per return. Advantage: Ole Miss.
Place kicking: Anders Carlson of Auburn has no experience, but he did hit 4 of 4 in bad weather in Auburn’s spring game. I watched him in warmups, too. His only miss in practice was from 53 yards, hitting the upright. Luke Logan gets the nod for Ole Miss, this year at kicker, after connecting on 2 of 3 field goals last season. Advantage: Even.
Auburn offensive line vs. Ole Miss defensive line: It’s still not settled who’ll start for Auburn on the line, although the starters looked decent on A-Day. Auburn is set at the guard spots with veteran juniors Mike Horton and Marquel Harrell. Left tackle seems solid with junior Prince Tega Wanagho, who reputedly took the next step forward in the spring after struggling last season in limited starts. Right tackle was a battle this spring between freshmen Austin Troxell and Calvin Ashley. Both had good moments, but Auburn turned around and signed graduate transfer Jack Driscoll from UMass. Driscoll played last season against SEC foes Tennessee and Mississippi State and allowed just 1 quarterback pressure. Center is another big question mark for Auburn. Junior Kaleb Kim and redshirt freshman Nick Brahms were battling for the starting job, but both went out with injuries and may or may not be back for the season opener. Converted H-back/tight end/walk-on Tucker Brown started on A-Day and actually did a good job. By midseason, I’m confident that line coach J. B. Grimes will have a strong offensive line out there. Grimes did a really solid job with the Auburn line in his previous stint, from 2013-2015. Grimes has been greatly missed the past couple of seasons! Juniors Josiah Coatney and Benito Jones make for a solid pair of tackles for Ole Miss. Ole Miss is hoping for more production at the end spots this season from senior Markel Winters and sophomore Ryder Anderson. Advantage: Even.
Auburn backs vs. Ole Miss linebackers: Auburn features senior H-back Chandler Cox, a 4-year starter, blowing open holes. The real question is who will carry the ball. Junior Kam Martin is blazing fast but has had durability issues in the past. Junior Malik Miller has size, power, and a few carries here and there but hasn’t been used much. Sophomore Devan Barrett has been moved to receiver. Auburn played freshmen JaTarvious Whitlow and Asa Martin a lot on A-Day. Both were suspect in pass blocking and running sideways or backwards. Whitlow dropped several passes. The best A-Day runner for the second year in a row was junior walk-on C. J. Tolbert, who had 137 yards. Tolbert is on the small side and didn’t have an actual carry in 2017. We do know, after watching the Gus Malzahn offense for 8 years at Auburn, there will be a bell-cow running back identified by this time, tearing up SEC defenses as long as the offense is balanced. Ole Miss should be pretty good at linebacker once again. Look for the starters to be sophomore Donta Evans and junior Brenden Williams with depth behind them. Advantage: Ole Miss.
Auburn receivers vs. Ole Miss corners: At the end of spring, it looked like Auburn’s two starting outside guys were juniors Nate Craig-Myers and Darius Slayton. Both guys can fly, have good height, and great hands. Redshirt freshman Marquis McClain had the catch of the day on A-Day and is someone to watch out for on the outside as well. Ole Miss returns junior Myles Hartsfield and senior Javien Hamilton on the outside. This pair combined for 5 interceptions and 8 pass breakups in 12 games last season. That’s not good if your starting corners are only defending 1 pass per game. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn secondary receivers and quarterback vs. Ole Miss safeties: This is a strength-against-strength matchup with lots of experience on both sides. Auburn senior Ryan Davis shattered the team single-season receptions mark last year with 84 catches. Teams that gave Davis a cushion last season got eaten up 5 to 10 yards per quick pass. Teams that tried to press were often burned for touchdowns. Auburn depth at the slot took blows with both Will Hastings and Eli Stove having knee injuries and surgeries this spring. Both did a ton of damage last year. Auburn has moved running back Devan Barrett to the slot for depth. Barrett has good hands and is a good runner, but he’s not the breakaway threat the guys above him are. Auburn’s tight end is senior Jalen Harris. Teams can key on him as a blocker only. I think Auburn has targeted Harris maybe 3 times in his 3 years as a starter. Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham had a slow start and a propensity to take hits last season but heated up by about game 4 and lit up some SEC secondaries. He’s mobile in the pocket, and can make every throw. Ole Miss is experienced at the safety spots, with senior Zedrick Woods on the strong side, junior Jaylon Jones at free safety, and senior Cameron Ordway at star/nickel. Advantage: Auburn.
This game will be the 8th straight for both teams, and fatigue may be a factor. Auburn will have superior depth in most spots, and that should offset any home-field advantage. This game could turn into a shootout, but I suspect that Auburn’s defensive line will disrupt enough to keep the score down on that side of the ball.
Prediction: Auburn takes care of business and pops Ole Miss by the score of 38-23.