Ole Miss defensive end Victor Evans expects No. 15 Auburn to challenge Rebels with ground attack
OXFORD, Miss. – Last month, Alabama was able to exploit Ole Miss’ struggles at stopping the run, as Damien Harris rushed for 144 yards and Jalen Hurts raced for 158. Two weeks later, Arkansas had success with Rawleigh Williams, who ran for 180 yards against the Rebels. And after Leonard Fournette’s 284-yard rushing performance for LSU last Saturday, Ole Miss defensive end Victor Evans expects No. 15 Auburn to try and use the same tactic.
Auburn’s ground game is one of nation’s best
The scary thing is Auburn may be better than all three of the above teams at running the ball. Gus Malzahn’s Tigers lead the SEC in rushing, averaging 302.9 yards per game which ranks them third in the nation. Alabama sits at No. 9 nationally, while LSU (following Fournette’s outing last Saturday) is ranked 19th.
Conversely, the Rebels (3-4, 1-3 Southeastern Conference) are going into Saturday night’s game ranked 113th in the nation in rushing defense, giving up an average of 226.9 rushing yards per game.
Last Saturday against the Razorbacks, Auburn had its most memorable effort running the football this season as the Tigers amassed 543 yards on the ground, which is now a school record for an SEC regular-season game. Their running attack is led by Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson; the duo has rushed for 1,235 yards and 12 touchdowns thus far.
Against then-No. 17 Arkansas, Pettway rumbled for 192 yards and two TDs as Auburn dismantled the Hogs, 56-3. Freshman running back Kam Martin rushed for 80 yards and one score on seven carries. Stanton Truitt had scoring runs of 20 and 31 yards.
Eli Stove broke free for a 78-yard touchdown on Auburn’s first play of the game.
The 6-foot-3 Evans knows the Rebels will have their work cut out for them.
Ole Miss DE Victor Evans
Outside of Kamryn Pettway, the Tigers (5-2, 3-1) used many of their backups to put up huge numbers on the ground against Arkansas.
Auburn was without Johnson, who dressed out and participated in pregame warmups but was held out of Saturday’s matchup due to a right ankle injury he suffered on October 8 against Mississippi State.
Tigers’ head coach Gus Malzahn said on Tuesday that he expects the sophomore to play against an Ole Miss team that is currently ranked 107th in the nation in total defense.
“I’m sure they’re going to come out and see it as a weakness to run the ball,” said Evans, who’s confident in the Rebels’ defensive turnaround. “But we’ll handle it. We’ve got to handle it.”
While Evans is mentally preparing for Auburn’s rushing attack, the Dallas, Texas native is focused on the mental state of his teammates, which he sees as the main issue for the team’s struggle to prevent explosive plays.
Evans believes leadership will be the only way Ole Miss will break out of its defensive woes.
Evans reflects back on Saturday’s sideline confrontation
During Saturday’s game in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, some of the Rebels’ defensive players appeared to be arguing on the sideline out of sheer frustration for giving up explosive plays on the ground. Evans mentioned that the defensive unit is a family—despite what everyone else saw.
Players-only team meeting
As Evans’ suggested, the Ole Miss football team appears to be a family committed to working out any differences they may have had. On Wednesday, the Rebels gathered for a players-only team meeting where they were able to acknowledge their frustrations, as well as work to get back on the same page with one another.
Senior tight end Evan Engram described the get-together after practice Wednesday. “Today we had a great team meeting and we were able to be transparent with each other,” he said. “It was just us guys in here talking it out, and I think it helped us a lot.”
(Feature image credit: Dan Anderson, The Rebel Walk)