Last look: Auburn/Ole Miss

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comOctober 5, 2013 

ROBIN TRIMARCHI rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.com Auburn running back Corey Grant (along with Tre Mason and Cameron Artis-Payne) will look to pile up yardage against an Ole Miss defense coming off a lackluster showing versus Alabama. The Rebels allowed the Crimson Tide to rush for 254 yards and two touchdowns.

ROBIN TRIMARCHI — rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.com Buy Photo

Who: No. 24 Ole Miss (3-1, 1-1 SEC) at Auburn (3-1, 1-1)

When: Saturday, 7 p.m. ET

Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium (87,451) | Auburn, Ala.

TV: ESPNU

Radio: Auburn IMG Sports Network (WVRK-102.9 FM in Columbus; WGZZ-94.3 FM in Auburn/Opelika)

All-time series: Auburn leads 27-10

Quick game notes: Auburn's offense has been almost automatic when entering the red zone this season. The Tigers have scored on 13 of its 14 incursions inside the opponent's 20-yard line. Their 92.9 percent scoring percentage is tops in the Southeastern Conference, and puts them among 34 teams in Division I converting more than 90 percent of the time in the red zone. ... Ole Miss averages 23.2 yards every time it fields a punt, which is No. 1 in the SEC and fifth nationally. In fact, it almost doubles up SEC runner-up Alabama, which has averaged 12.5 yards per punt return this season. The Rebels will try to find some success against the Tigers, who allow the second-fewest on punt returns (0.5) of any team in the conference, right on the heels of LSU at 0.4. ... Tigers' offense hitting its stride: Auburn is coming off its best half of the season offensively, as it gained 333 yards in the final 30 minutes of its game against LSU. Those kind of numbers haven't been seen on the Plains since Cam Newton was still around. The last time the Tigers had 300-plus yards in a half against a conference foe since the first half of the 2010 SEC Championship game, when Auburn rolled up 348 yards versus South Carolina. ... Ole Miss returns to the state for the second straight week, following a 25-0 defeat to top-ranked Alabama last Saturday in Tuscaloosa. With their game at Jordan-Hare Stadium today, it marks the first time the Rebels have played in Alabama in consecutive weeks since 1932. Ole Miss lost both contests, falling 24-13 to the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa and 14-7 to the Tigers in Montgomery.

KEY MATCHUPS

Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant vs. Ole Miss front seven

In its first three games of the season, Ole Miss allowed an average of 114.3 yards per game on the ground to Vanderbilt, Southeast Missouri State and Texas, respectively. Then the Rebels played the Crimson Tide. By the time Alabama was done, it had tallied 254 rushing yards. And while some may point to the two long touchdown runs — a 68-yarder by T.J. Yeldon and a 50-yarder from Kenyan Drake — as aberrations, those 118 yards can't be removed from the final total. And that should bring a smile to the faces of Mason, Artis-Payne and Grant. While Grant was slowed with an ankle injury against LSU, Mason picked up the slack and ran for 132 yards and two touchdowns against a talented LSU front With Grant back and Artis-Payne likely to play a bigger role this week, the Tigers will test the Rebels' rush defense for the second week in a row.

EDGE: Auburn. Based on their most recent outings, it's tough to side against the Tigers here.

Bo Wallace vs. Auburn front seven

The Tigers' issues defending mobile quarterbacks is well-documented. And in each game, it has steadily gotten worse. In the season opener against Washington State, it allowed Connor Halliday to gain 24 yards on five carries, though 10 were later taken off his total due to sacks or other tackles behind the line of scrimmage. In Game 2, Arkansas State quarterback Adam Kennedy was able to take off and find room to run, finishing as the Red Wolves' top rusher, with 74 yards on 12 carries, good for a 6.2 average. That was highlighted by a 28-yard run in the third quarter which Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson blamed on a breakdown in communication among the players on his unit. (Isn't that what coaches say every time an explosive play occurs, though?) Then, of course, came the Mississippi State game. Any time Dak Prescott wanted to run, he did so — and the Tigers couldn't do anything about it. The sophomore sliced and diced Auburn's defense for 133 yards and two touchdowns. What should give the Tigers' pause this week is that Wallace is as comfortable as Prescott running up the middle. The Ole Miss signal-caller has two inches (6-foot-4 to 6-foot-2) over Prescott, but gives up nearly 21 pounds (230 to 209) to the Mississippi State quarterback. In last year's 41-20 over Auburn, Wallace served as the team's short-yardage back, a role he has assumed again in 2013. With the Tigers already looking for a way to shut down Rebel running back Jeff Scott — who ran for 137 yards on 21 carries in last year's 41-20 victory — expect Wallace to figure more prominently in the Ole Miss ground attack Saturday.

BIG EDGE: Ole Miss. Wallace ran for two touchdowns (of one yard and two yards, respectively) versus Auburn last year. The Tigers don't appear any closer to finding a solution to stymie fleet-footed quarterbacks since that game, either, which makes the Rebels an (overwhelmingly) obvious choice in this category.

Jeff Scott vs. Auburn punt return team

As mentioned in the "game notes" above, the Rebels have found incredible success when it has been able to return punts this season. And all the credit is due to their senior running back, Scott. He only had a chance to field one punt last week against the Crimson Tide, gaining only four yards. But twice this season, he has notched 73-yard returns, the first coming in the season opener versus Vanderbilt and the second coming against Texas. Though neither ended with touchdowns, Scott showed he has the potential to make things happen whenever a team elects to kick to him. That's where Auburn senior punter Steven Clark figures prominently. Clark is only ninth in the SEC in yards per punt at 43.5, but he's tied for fourth in 50-plus yard kicks (five). More importantly teams are having little success running the ball back against him, as the longest return the Tigers have given up this season is 10 yards, which came against LSU two weeks ago.

EDGE: Even. It's incredibly close — too close to call, honestly. With that in mind, don't be surprised if the winner of this matchup wins the game; and as I've said before, coming up with a big play on special teams normally seems to bode well for a team's chances at victory.

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