Everything clicking at the right time for Ole Miss heading into Auburn game
Two important areas of this year’s Ole Miss Football team–defense and rushing–returned to supremacy last Saturday night against Texas A&M. Now the Rebels (6-2, 3-1) have to keep their momentum going heading into another key Southeastern Conference matchup today against preseason favorite Auburn.
The motivation to play the Tigers is evident, and some of the Rebel players–including middle linebacker C.J. Johnson, free safety Trae Elston, wide receiver Cody Core, and right tackle Fahn Cooper–are excited about the opportunity to gain a measure of revenge on Auburn.
“I’m very excited,” said Elston, who’s second in the SEC in interceptions (4). “We took two losses the last two times we played them; it was tough how we lost to them last year. I’m very excited to play Auburn.”
In last season’s matchup, Ole Miss held a 31-28 lead early in the fourth quarter after a 3-yard touchdown run by Bo Wallace. Down 35-31 with 1:30 left in the game, Wallace completed a 19-yard strike to receiver Laquon Treadwell, who fumbled the football near the end zone after what was first ruled a touchdown.
But the Rebels lost far more than the game when Treadwell’s touchdown was reversed–they lost their star receiver to a season-ending leg injury.
That was the last time Treadwell saw the field in 2014, and now everyone wonders what Treadwell’s feelings are about the game against the Tigers? According to Freeze, it’s just another game for the team’s leader in receiving yards (756).
“I’m not sure,” Freeze said when asked about Treadwell’s thoughts about facing Auburn. “I haven’t really talked to him about it specifically. I think he has had enough games under his belt now where I don’t know if that would really matter to him. I haven’t spoken to him about that.”
Laremy Tunsil and the cohesiveness of the O-line
A win over the Tigers (4-3, 1-3) would mean more than just a revenge win, it would mean an SEC title game is in reach for the Rebels–and some of the most important pieces are in place for Ole Miss to get there.
The return of Laremy Tunsil is the biggest piece of the puzzle to fall into place as of late, and the talented left tackle had a huge effect on the offensive line’s performance against the Aggies. The Rebels’ running game was able to find holes through the middle, tallying up 230 yards on the ground.
Right tackle Cooper feels the cohesiveness of the offensive line will play a major factor in not only the Auburn game, but for the rest of the season if the goal is to get to Atlanta.
“It’s definitely crucial,” Cooper said. “Whoever is going to be in Atlanta playing for the SEC Championship will have to have a cohesive offensive line. Without that, the offense is going to sputter and it’s going to be hot and cold and you don’t want that, you want consistency.”
Auburn struggling in 2015
Consistency has been building and seems to be the theme for the 19th-ranked Rebels, but that’s not the case for the Tigers, who were picked in the preseason to win the SEC West, but who have struggled offensively. Auburn Coach Malzahn began the season with Heisman hopeful Jeremy Johnson at quarterback, but Johnson was benched for redshirt freshman Sean White after the team’s 45-21 loss to LSU in Baton Rouge.
Since then, Auburn has gone 2-2 with White under center, and Malzahn feels his young quarterback has gotten better since his first start against Mississippi State. In the 17-9 loss to the Bulldogs, White completed 20 of 28 passes for 188 yards and one interception.
“He has done a good job,” Malzahn said in Wednesday’s SEC Teleconference. “You can see him get more comfortable this week. Most importantly, he takes care of the football.”
The only spark the Tigers have on offense is sophomore running back Peyton Barber, who’s fourth in the SEC in rushing yards (770). Despite seeing Auburn struggle, Freeze expects the Tigers to be ready to play in their own backyard Saturday at 11:00 a.m. CT.
“Knowing Gus Malzahn like I know him, he is going to have his kids ready to play,” Freeze said. “They’ll have a great plan and be hungry for success at home. There’s nothing like returning at home in front of your people to help you get that boost of energy that you need. I expect we’ll see the best Auburn team of the entire year.”
Auburn has home advantage over Ole Miss
The Tigers lead the series 29-10 and are 14-2 in Auburn. The last time the Rebels got a win in the series was during the 2012-13 season when they defeated Auburn, 41-20. Under Freeze, Ole Miss is 1-2 against the Tigers.
Robert Nkemdiche cleared to play, Tony Conner is still in the air
Defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche has been cleared to play against Auburn, following a concussion suffered on an offensive possession against Memphis two weeks ago. He was held out of the Texas A&M game, but should be ready to play against the Tigers.
“Rob’s been acclimated, he’s just got to be symptom-free, which he is right now,” Freeze said on Wednesday. “Everything looks good with him. Rob’s been cleared to go. As long as he doesn’t have any more symptoms, he’s looked good both days of practice. He’s ready to go.”
Safety Tony Conner suffered a torn meniscus against Alabama and will be evaluated as to whether or not he is able to play.
“With Tony, it is just how is he progressing? He’s been out a while. I think he got 12 snaps yesterday,” Freeze said on Wednesday. “I don’t know how many today, but we’ll kind of see how he goes throughout the week and how much swelling there is and all the things the docs have to look at to judge him. He is day-to-day.”
Where to Find the Game
Feature image credit: Bentley Breland, The Rebel Walk