Assessing Auburn's 30-22 win over Ole Miss

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comOctober 6, 2013 

7) Auburn (4-1, 2-1); LW, 8

Gus Malzahn always likes to resort to coach-speak when asked about the future, uttering the well-worn, "taking it one week and one game and at a time" phrase. Well I'm not bound by those rules, so I'm looking ahead: Given the way Auburn's schedule sets up, if it can pull off the massive upset of Texas A&M on the road in two weeks, it may very well be 9-1 when it hosts Georgia on Nov. 16. (The Tigers' schedule after playing the Aggies: vs Florida Atlantic, at Arkansas and at Tennessee.) And after losing nine games last year, that would be an incredible accomplishment for this team.

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

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn just keeps finding ways to win this season.

The Tigers have shown they can win games by passing the ball (see the win against Mississippi State), though more often than not, it’s been a ground-based attack that has led them to victory. That was certainly the case Saturday night versus No. 24 Ole Miss, as Nick Marshall had the breakout rushing performance many had been waiting to see in a 30-22 win. The junior quarterback came into the game with 148 rushing yards and no touchdowns this season; Saturday night, he had 140 (on 14 carries) and two touchdowns.

Marshall’s effort spearheaded Auburn’s running game against Ole Miss, as it tallied 282 yards against the visitors. The passing offense never got going, but it wasn’t needed the way the Tigers were running the ball. Marshall completed 11 of his 17 attempts for 93 yards, with more than one-third of that total coming on a 34-yard connection with Tre Mason.

Defensively, the Tigers gave up a lot of yards. 464, to be exact. But that meant little for the Rebels since it came in a loss. Coincidentally, it was the second time in 2013 an opponent had come into Jordan-Hare Stadium and gained 464 yards on the Tigers’ defense — Washington State did the same in the season opener. Both teams met with a similar fate, however, as they walked away in defeat.

While the Tigers can’t be happy they allowed Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace to throw for 336 yards and two touchdowns, it took him 48 throws to get that total. And Auburn didn’t let the junior signal-caller leave unscathed, as they collected the first two interceptions he has thrown this season, highlighted by Robenson Therezie’s 78-yard pick-six return in the first quarter. Wallace was also physically beat up, with the Tigers sacking him six times.

The Tigers were also stout against the run, permitting just 124 rushing yards on 39 carries, coming out to an average of 3.2 per carry.

One area Auburn still needs to work on? Putting teams away. They had leads of 20-3 and 27-9 at different points in the contest, but still needed three defensive stops in the final period to keep the Rebels at bay.

Now let’s hand out some grades.

OFFENSE: B+

There can be no complaints with the way Auburn ran the ball. So what’s keeping this from an A? Not to at least break into triple-digits in the passing game leaves a bit to be desired, especially when a couple of Marshall’s overthrows (yes, again), if completed, would have put him well over that total.

DEFENSE: B+

The yards they allowed were already noted above, which puts this a smidgen below an A. That being said, Auburn’s defense played about as well as a unit can while giving up that kind of yardage. Along with the interceptions and the sacks it tallied, the Tigers had 14 tackles for loss, one better than the 13 they collected versus Arkansas State.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A

Senior placekicker Cody Parkey went only 1-for-2 on his field goal attempts, but his miss came from 54 yards, so few would penalize him for that. Punter Steven Clark should get a pat on the back from every one of his teammates for his play Saturday night. The senior punted five times for 207 yards, which helped keep the SEC’s top punt return unit in check. The Rebels came in averaging 23.2 yards per punt return, fifth-best in the country. On Saturday, the Tigers allowed only five yards on one return by Jeff Scott.

OVERALL: B+

Does Auburn still have places to improve? Without question. But Auburn held off a spirited rally by Ole Miss to pick up its first win over a ranked foe since beating No. 9 South Carolina in 2011. More importantly, the Tigers are 4-1 (2-1 in Southeastern Conference play), eclipsing last season's win total in only five games this year.

Related stories:

Auburn postgame video: Tigers react to 30-22 victory against Rebels

Auburn football video: Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson speaks after Sunday's practice

Auburn notes: Cassanova McKinzy participates in Tigers' Sunday practice, Kiehl Frazier back to offense

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