When it comes time for Ole Miss to play at Alabama – and due to quirks in SEC scheduling that time has come for two straight seasons now – you hear the Rebels’ history at Alabama brought to the forefront.
After last week’s 25-0 loss it’s 1-25 for Ole Miss in Tuscaloosa, the lone win coming in 1988.
People tend to forget that history is little better when the Rebels visit Auburn. Ole Miss is just 10-27 against the Alabama Tigers overall, just 2-13 at Auburn.
While I have a history minor, I don’t really get caught up in history – at least not distant history – as a projector for what might happen in the next game.
Recent history might be another thing.
If the Rebels let last week’s history linger and are unable to get past a disappointing loss at Alabama, one that snapped a five-game win streak for the program, that could be a problem against an Auburn team that resembles the 2012 Ole Miss bunch in many ways.
The biggest way is youthful hunger.
Auburn has an energetic new staff that is trying to right the ship from an winless SEC season the prior year.
Like last year’s Ole Miss team, they’ve gotten off to a 3-1 start.
Last year’s Ole Miss team did something else and that was to move on from an emotional loss.
“I think they’ve moved on. Hopefully they’ve followed our lead and done that. They were very effective and efficient at doing that last year,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said on Wednesday’s SEC conference call.
The best example of the Rebels’ moving on last year was against Auburn. The 30-27 home loss to rising Texas A&M was the most difficult loss for Ole Miss that I’ve witnessed in several seasons. They were locked in and jumped on Auburn early the following week.
A year later Freeze and his players will be trying to again prove the bonafides of the Ole Miss offense after Alabama limited the Rebels to 1.8 yards per rush last week. If you can’t run the ball you can’t do a lot of things, and Ole Miss had just 205 total yards while being shut out for the first time in 15 years.
Auburn has given up a lot of yards and ranks 13th in total defense, but the Tigers, under veteran SEC coordinator Ellis Johnson, are sixth in the league in scoring defense at 22.0 points a game allowed.
Washington State rolled up 464 yards, but Auburn forced four turnovers in the season opener and won 31-24.
Aside from Bo Wallace fumbling when he’s been hit while trying to make a play, the Rebels’ starters have been pretty good at protecting the ball. That all starts with Wallace, who has now thrown 136 straight passes without an interception, a streak that dates back to the second quarter of the Compass Bowl win over Pittsburgh.
The guess here is that Ole Miss revives its run game. The Rebels need to convert drives with touchdowns, something they failed to do on two Red Zone trips at Alabama.
It will be interesting to see if Freeze opts to attempt a field goal or two as the game plays out. The guess here is he will if the opening drive stalls.
The Rebels need to revive not only their run game but their run defense against a talented trio of Auburn backs led by junior Tre Mason, who is small but strong and can run inside or outside.
For the sake of argument if you subtract a 68-yard TD run and a 50-yard TD run Ole Miss held Alabama to 3.5 yards per attempt. The 68-yard run was an assignment bust, the second came late when fatigue had set in. You can’t subtract those runs, because you have to play for four quarters. While the Rebels’ defense has been very good against the run this year and was good for most of the Alabama game, you can also spin that to say they’re prone to giving up big plays against quality backs. The larger body of work says they’ve been good against the run, and I suspect they will be again Saturday.
They will need to be.
Prediction: Ole Miss 28, Auburn 20