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Friday, October 29, 2010

Who has the edge: Auburn or Ole Miss?

Hitting the road today, but I had time to get this matchups blog post up first.

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No. 1 Auburn at Ole Miss
  • Where: Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, Oxford, Miss.
  • When: Saturday, 6 p.m. ET
  • TV: ESPN2
  • Records: Auburn 8-0, 5-0 SEC; Ole Miss 3-4, 1-3 SEC
Auburn passing game vs. Ole Miss secondary
Because the Tigers haven't had to throw the ball much, their passing game gets overlooked. But it's not bad. Cam Newton is still the most efficient passer in the SEC and third in the country (172.1),, even though Auburn is averaging only 183.5 yards per game in the air, eighth in the SEC. Although Darvin Adams' catches are down, he still seems to find a way to get open on third downs when Auburn needs him. Ole Miss, meanwhile, is giving up 245.6 yards per game in the air, only a fraction better than Auburn's maligned secondary. Making matters worse, safety Damien Jackson has a knee injury and is doubtful for the game. The Tigers may not have to throw it, but if they do they could take advantage. Edge: Auburn.
Auburn running backs vs. Ole Miss linebackers
Auburn's rushing totals the last four SEC games: 334, 311, 330 and 440. That's pretty good. Newton is at this point a runner first and not one that's easy to bring down. He'll get the lion's share of carries again, and quite honestly no defense has shown it is capable of slowing him down. Mike Dyer and Onterio McCalebb looked like a good power-speed combo against LSU, each doing their part. The coaches say Mario Fannin will remain a part of the offense, but I can't imagine it involves too much inside running, not with his fumbling issues. Middle linebacker Jonathan Cornell is Ole Miss' leading tackler with 51 (including 9.5 TFLs). But he, like other linebackers, faces the same problem: he's 6-1, 235, tiny compared to Newton. It's been a problem for previous defenses and it should be for this one too. Edge: Auburn.
Auburn offensive line vs. Ole Miss defensive line
No unit has elevated its play since the start of the year like the offensive line, which began pounding teams after the Clemson game. It's a veteran group that's been through some tough battles, so going on the road shouldn't rattle it. The Tigers will have a tough matchup in the Rebels. Nose tackle Jerrell Powe, a 6-foot-2, 320-pound load in the middle, is tough to move and the other linemen can makes plays. Ole Miss is fifth in the league with 19 sacks. Then again, everybody was saying good things about the LSU defensive line prior to last week's game. Edge: Auburn.
Ole Miss passing game vs. Auburn secondary
Jeremiah Masoli is a dual-threat quarterback, so he can beat a team through the air. Ole Miss doesn't get too many yards per game passing (199.1), but it has 13 passing touchdowns. The Rebels spread it around. Five different receivers have 13 or more catches. Each has caught at least one touchdown. If you're looking for a matchup problems here, how about 6-foot-7 Melvin Harris. Ole Miss has a big play guy too: Markeith Summers, who is averaging 22.4 yards per catch and has four touchdowns. Auburn's defensive backs fared better against LSU, but that wasn't exactly the smoothest operating offense it has faced. The group is still banged up. Neiko Thorpe has a hand injury. T'Sharvan Bell has a hamstring problem. And Aairon Savage is out with a broken bone in his ankle. That makes this a tough matchup. Edge: Ole Miss.
Ole Miss running backs vs. Auburn linebackers
The Rebels are kind of like the Tigers in that their quarterback accounts for a lot of rushing yardage. Masoli has rushed for 400 yards this year, second on the team. Brandon Bolden handles the bulk of the load (559 yards on 97 carries), leading a rushing offense that's third in the league and 20th nationally, averaging 211.1 yards per game. That means Auburn's tacklers will have to be on their game. Josh Bynes and Craig Stevens generally don't have problems. But with Daren Bates likely out with a shoulder problem, it means increased time for Jonathan Evans and Eltoro Freeman, something Ole Miss can take advantage of. Plus, Auburn didn't do a great job containing LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson as a runner last week (74 yards, TD). Masoli's a better runner than that. Edge: Ole Miss.
Ole Miss offensive line vs. Auburn defensive line
I found this stat to be remarkable: Ole Miss leads the SEC in sacks allowed with seven. That's in 182 attempts. So clearly this group is at least decent (I can imagine Masoli's mobility has a lot to do with as well). It's still not a veteran group. Only left tackle Bradley Sowell is an entrenched second-year starter (although RT Bobbie Massey finished last year as a starter and was a preseason second-team All-SEC pick by Lindy's). Center Evan Swindall and left guard Patrick Junen are true freshmen, however. Think Nick Fairley, he of the 17 TFLs and 7.5 sacks, might be licking his chops for that matchup? Oh, Auburn is also third in the league against the run, allowing 103.4 yards per game. Edge: Auburn.
Auburn return units vs. Ole Miss coverage teams
Quindarius Carr didn't look very comfortable going after the ball last week on punt returns (despite Trooper Taylor's claims that there was only one ball he should have let go). Auburn paid a price in field position because of it. The kick return game remains a constant threat with Demond Washington and McCalebb back there. Ole Miss is 95th nationally in kick return yardage allowed (23.54) but punter Tyler Campbell is second in the league with a 45.9-yard average. Punt advantage: Ole Miss. Kick return advantage: Auburn. Edge: Push.
Ole Miss return units vs. Auburn coverage teams
Jesse Grandy has returned only eight punts this year, but he has a 20.6-yard average, with one for a touchdown. Ole Miss' kick return game has lagged (98th nationally), but Grandy is a constant threat. Just ask the Tigers. He burned them for an 82-yard kickoff return last year. Auburn's coverage units are better this year, but its punting has been a problem. Freshman Steven Clark hasn't given Auburn the boost its been looking for in the punting game, averaging 37.0 yards per punt so far. That'll have to improve for the Tigers to ever get the edge here. Edge: Ole Miss.
Wes Byrum had another hiccup against LSU, missing a 39-yarder. But he did hit one from 42 and is still 12-for-16 this year. Ole Miss' Bryson Rose is 8-for-10, although his longest this year was 41 and six of his makes are from 35 and in. Edge: Auburn.
Houston Nutt seems to motivate his troops to an upset win in these kind of situations at least once a year, but he's had a tough time getting this group going. This is the same team that lost at home earlier this year to Jacksonville State and Vanderbilt. Gene Chizik has done a good job of keeping Auburn from getting ahead of itself (probably because every game comes down to the wire with this team). I don't think you can discount the fact that Gus Malzahn will be very motivated to stick it to the coach who ran him off after one year at Arkansas. He won't admit as much (it's not Gus' style), but you can just tell. Edge: Auburn.
SEC road games are never easy. Look at how Auburn did in three-point wins at Mississippi State and Kentucky (a pair of games that look a lot better in hindsight, by the way). No, I don't think it'll be easy going into Oxford and playing a night game in what should be an amped-up atmosphere to play the BCS No. 1 team. But I think Auburn will handle its business here. For Ole Miss to win, it'll either have to simply outscore the Tigers or play a ball control game that keeps Newton off the field. Either way, I don't like the Rebels' chances. There will be some points, but Auburn will have more. Prediction: Auburn 37, Ole Miss 28.


Anonymous said...

Unless Ole Miss plays the game of their lives Saturday, which is always possible I guess, I don't see this being very close at all. If we're a flawed team that has some really outstanding pieces to work with, they're a deeply flawed team with just a couple decent-to-good pieces and the Houston Nutt luck factor. I think more on the order of 42-21.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the prvious comment..IF Ole Miss plays great and Auburn plays poorly, Auburn could fall. I don't see it happening....Auburn 34-20

postermom said...

I think the scores will be closer to the Auburn-Ark scores with these two QBs. Unless our D continues to improve, which I think is a good possibility.

Tar Heel Tiger said...

Unless we turn it over more in this game than any other thus far, we should get a W.