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Rebel Round-Up: The Difference Between Good and Great

Rebel Round-Up: The Difference Between Good and Great

OXFORD, Miss. — What the Ole Miss football team has done this season has been astonishing.

It is not just that the Rebels are 6-1. It’s not that they have a top-10 ranking or a top-three offense. And it’s not that they have a likely Heisman finalist in Matt Corral putting everything he has into every play.

What makes this season (to date) so amazing is how the team has adapted to and overcome obstacles. Every team faces times of adversity. Some let it become their downfall, unable to rise to the challenge, but Ole Miss continues to find a way to win.

Early in the year, fans thought the 3-2-6 was a fantastic defensive scheme. Then in SEC play, the Rebels struggled in games against Alabama, Arkansas, and somewhat against Tennessee. But last week against LSU, we saw some innovation and adjustments. We even saw the Rebs run a little bit of a four-man front.

The injuries have piled up, but Ole Miss has found a way to win. Against Arkansas, the Rebels did so on the final play of the game. In front of a hostile Tennessee crowd, they again did so on the final play. And at home against rival LSU, they did so with a QB who wasn’t (and still isn’t) 100%.

The Mental Game

The mindset of this team is different, and it starts at the top. Earlier in the year, I praised Arkansas for how the Razorbacks embody head coach Sam Pittman’s mentality, but now I need to do the same for Ole Miss.

As we can tell from his interviews, Coach Kiffin doesn’t want any “rat poison” to interfere with his team’s concentration, meaning he doesn’t want success and praise to go to their heads. He wants the team focused on the here and now.

Earlier this week, Kiffin commented that he wasn’t aware his Rebels are now bowl eligible — and it mattered not at all to him to find out they are as he wants more.  We’ve seen many players (notably Corral) talk about how important it is to work hard and focus on practice. It really is every rep, every second, and every day that matter with this team.

All these things have made Ole Miss a good team. This week can be the one that proves them to be a great team.

Don’t get me wrong, they are a really good team. Few would have predicted them to be in this position at this point in the season. But for them to be great, they need to achieve feats that other teams of the recent past have struggled to do.

If Ole Miss wants to be a great team, it needs to beat other top-25 teams consistently. The Rebels defeated then-No. 13-ranked Arkansas earlier this month and now have two more opportunities against Auburn and Texas A&M. There’s a huge difference in the perception of a team that ends up 8-4 or 9-3 compared to a team that ends up 10-2 or 11-1.

It’s tough to win on the road in the SEC — and to do it against a top-25 team makes it even tougher. Auburn has been Ole Miss’ kryptonite for much of the 21st century. Ole Miss has only bested Auburn four times since 2000 (three due to NCAA vacated wins) and the Tigers currently own a five-game win streak.

Ole Miss travels to Auburn ranked 10th in the nation. Auburn is sitting at 5-2 and 18th in the nation. The stage is set for this to be the most influential game on Ole Miss schedule.


  • Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 30, 6:00 PM CT
  • TV: ESPN
  • Radio:
    • Memphis: WHBQ-AM 560
    • Oxford: WOXF-FM 105.1
    • Jackson: WFMN-FM 97.3
  • Betting Lines:
    • Auburn: -3
    • O/U: 66
    • Ole Miss Moneyline: +120
    • Auburn Moneyline: -140

Points of Emphasis

Have Success in-between the 20s

Auburn has a top-40 defense in yardage allowed, and they’ve made it tough for opposing teams to score. The Tigers have given up 30+ points only once this season; that was when the Georgia offense put up 34 points on them two weeks ago. However, the Auburn defense ranks 109th in red zone defense. Teams put up points almost 91% of the time they get in the red zone.

The Ole Miss offense is tied for 7th in the nation in red zone scores. They also are 7th in total touchdowns. If the offense can get into the red zone, I’m confident they can put up points. They’ll just need to get there.

Linemen need to remain disciplined 

Losing right guard Ben Brown for the season to a torn bicep hurts Ole Miss. The senior gave the Rebels valuable experience up front and now they have to look to replace it late in the season.

Auburn defensive coordinator Derek Mason is one of the most respected defensive minds in college football. He runs a two-gap-style defense with a three-man front most of the time. When I say two-gap, it means that every defensive player on the line is responsible for two gaps instead of one (normally, in a 4-3 you are held responsible for one), and because of this, their ends play a different style that is more read-and-react. The ends sit on the tackles waiting to see which gap they need to attack while also getting aid from linebackers. (See picture below.)

In this situation, your interior linemen need to remain disciplined. This offense loves to use the run pass option and as we’ve seen before, it can cause some illegal man downfield penalties on passes. In this situation, we are worried about the run as if the interior o-linemen push downfield to get to the second level. This can leave 1v1s on the ends who are already just holding their blocks waiting for the play to develop.

The other thing Derek Mason covets is speed. He understands that versatility and the ability to cover ground are a necessity in the modern game. We also may see a dose of a four-man front that includes two linemen in a stance and two standing linebackers.

Corral Must Utilize His Legs

Corral was banged up after rushing thirty times against Tennessee the week before the LSU game. It is no secret he was hobbled last week, yet he still put together another great performance. Granted, No. 2 didn’t fill up the stat sheet per usual due to a lack of his weapons around him, as well as his own ankle injury, but he took care of business early in this one.

In order for Ole Miss offense to truly give Auburn fits, Corral needs to be a threat to run. It’s a numbers game when spread offenses take the field, and a QB who can run makes the defense have to adjust. Placing another defender in the box can open numbers and space on the outside.

Contain Bo Nix

Really, the goal of containing Bo Nix could be for anyone who plays Auburn this season. It’s no secret that while the Auburn quarterback has improved some this season, he still needs development in the pocket. It is worth nothing it’s tough for a guy who is on his third offensive coordinator to get a full grasp of things. Nonetheless, we know what Nix is capable of when the play breaks down. He may be one of the best improvisers in the SEC. Here’s a little reminder for you, if you don’t know

Ole Miss needs to take an element away from an offense that features the sneaky Nix and talented running back Tank Bigsby. Keeping Nix in the pocket can help the Rebels focus on stopping the run. Nix is playing more confident but a solid pass rush that can keep him in between the tackles may lead to his inaccuracies that could lean Ole Miss’s way.

Score Quickly

Shutting up an enemy crowd on the road is something every team tries to do, and Ole Miss should be no different. The Tigers’ defense will try to limit any explosive plays from the high-octane Ole Miss offense.

The other part to this is how can the Ole Miss offense hold up physically as the rest of the season unfolds? The injuries are starting to pile up, but can this team win on 100-plus-snap games consistently? Scoring fast can help the Rebels build a cushion to win the time of possession and dictate some of the momentum and clock early on.

Limit the Auburn Run Game

The Tigers started the year with an emphasis on the run. In recent weeks, however, they have actually thrown more than they have passed. Against Arkansas, the Tigers only rushed for 135 yards. This is an Arkansas defense that on average has given up 192 yards per game. Ole Miss gives up an average 181 yards per game.

Given the one-two punch of Tank Bigsby and fellow running back Jarquez Hunter, the Tigers should focus on getting the ground game going. Bigsby has amassed over 500 yards this season with his physical running style, while Hunter averages 8.6 yards per carry.

We’re always working on the run game, with many other things, as well… What the bye week gives you an opportunity to do is go back and look – alright, what was good, what was bad, and why? And let’s go work against some of those looks.” 

Coach Brian Harsin

Ole Miss defense has improved in the past couple of weeks, and Coach Kiffin has noted the physical presence the group has brought to the field. “I think we play more physical, we don’t give up as many big plays… which is part of the system also,” Kiffin explained.

Ole Miss Key Players

Wide Receivers

Ole Miss has been beaten down at receiver with injuries to both Jonathan Mingo and Braylon Sanders. Auburn will be without one of their starting safeties as Smoke Monday has reportedly been suspended for the contest.

The Auburn secondary lost some pieces but rebounded well in the transfer portal. That being said, the Tigers still bring back an impressive piece in Roger McCreary. Recently, McCreary was rated one of the top three corners in college football by Pro Football Focus.

We are still waiting for someone to step up fully alongside Ole Miss receiver Dontario Drummond. McCreary will likely be lined up against Drummond, making an intriguing matchup in itself.

As the old adage goes pressure makes diamonds. This may be the week that one of Dannis Jackson, Jadon Jackson, or Jahcour Pearson breaks out.

Sam Williams

Recording a sack in almost every contest, Sam Williams has been the leading pass rusher for Ole Miss this season. Getting an effective pass rush can help limit Nix’s ability to improvise. It also will force him to get rid of the ball early, shortening these plays for the secondary.

Georgia was able to get to Nix four times in the contest two weeks ago. It would be wrong to expect the Rebels to reach that number but for Ole Miss to at least pressure him and collapse the pocket is a fair goal.

Matt Corral

Everyone who wins the Heisman has that one shining moment. Other contenders have some tough stretches to end the season. An away game against a top-25 team would be a perfect place for Corral to build his case.

It’s no secret the Rebels are banged up on the line and at the receiver position. Some think that this can derail his run, but Corral can separate himself with a huge performance and a win on the road against a team that’s favored.

This one has all the makings of a potential Heisman moment.

Backup Interior Linemen

Earlier we discussed what the Auburn defense will do and how the Ole Miss line has to remain disciplined. Now the Rebels have to go into the Plains with not one, but both starting guards injured after Brown’s departure. Caleb Warren played limited snaps last week against LSU.

The Rebels will shuffle their line around and it’s an unfortunate time to have to do so. Fans can expect to see a mix of players playing different positions. Expect a guard rotation of Jordan Rhodes, Cedric Melton, Calen Warren, and Orlando Umana.

Mark Robinson and Chance Campbell

In the past couple of games, linebacker Mark Robinson has been on a tear, notching 14 tackles against Tennessee and 12 against LSU. Fellow linebacker Chance Campbell is the leader of this defense. Together, the two are the first and third leading tacklers on the unit — totaling a combined 107 tackles on the year.

Auburn has struggled to get its run game going in recent performances. However, The Tigers have had an extra week of preparation to fine-tune some things to get downhill against the Rebels.

Campbell and Robinson need to recognize and cover a lot of ground to keep this Auburn attack from getting downfield. If they can have a double-digit tackle game and get a couple in the backfield, the Rebels could be in a good position.

Auburn Impact Players

Donovan Kaufman

A Vanderbilt transfer, Kaufman followed Coach Mason to Auburn. With the news of Smoke Monday’s suspension, Kaufman likely finds himself in a starting role this week. Kiffin loves to pick on weaknesses. Kaufman will have to prove that his years with Mason won’t leave him behind in his first potential game with big-time reps. On the year Kaufman has thirteen tackles and a fumble recovery.

Kilian Zierer

Austin Troxell’s injury offered an opportunity for Zierer to step up. Against Arkansas, Zierer played very well and he earned praise from his coaches. The offensive line unit didn’t give up a sack against the Razorbacks that week. The team expects Troxell back, but even a rotational swing tackle is an important player for any college football team.

Chandler Wooten

The captain of the defense is Chandler Wooten. He also plays one of the most important positions in Derek Mason’s defense, the STAR linebacker — or as we would say, the hybrid linebacker. He acts as a cross between safety and linebacker.

Coach Harsin has praised the play and leadership mentality of Wooten. He will have his hands full with the Ole Miss offense coming in. Vision and recognition are key for any STAR linebacker and as the captain, he will look to make sure the Tigers’ defense is zoned in. If they struggle, Ole Miss will find and exploit a mismatch.

Bo Nix

It’s already been discussed how Nix excels at extending plays. The Ole Miss defense will do its best at containing Nix inside the pocket. He is currently playing confident football and DJ Durkin’s group will look to shake that. The inefficiencies Nix brings as a passer are still there and Ole Miss needs to collapse his pocket, forcing him to decide and commit quickly to make Nix struggle.  On the year Nix has completed 60% of his passes and owns an 8:2 TD to INT ratio.

Colby Wooden and Derrick Hall

Auburn’s two leading sack leaders will be tasked with getting to Corral. T.D. Moultry still may be out after missing multiple weeks, although we are hearing he has been reinstated to the team. Corral has operated well inside a clean pocket all year. In fact, according to PFF, he has been the best in that nation under a clean pocket. If the Tigers want to stunt the Ole Miss offense it starts up front with Wooden and Hall . The duo has a total of 13 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks.

(Feature image: Dan Anderson, The Rebel Walk)

TJ Oxley

TJ Oxley

TJ Oxley is the Vice President of Operations and the Director of Community Relations for The Rebel Walk. He is also the Director of Basketball Content and Senior Basketball Writer. He has over five years of experience providing in-depth analysis of college basketball through multiple platforms. A former MBA graduate of Ole Miss, TJ started with The Rebel Walk in 2019.

About The Author

TJ Oxley

TJ Oxley is the Vice President of Operations and the Director of Community Relations for The Rebel Walk. He is also the Director of Basketball Content and Senior Basketball Writer. He has over five years of experience providing in-depth analysis of college basketball through multiple platforms. A former MBA graduate of Ole Miss, TJ started with The Rebel Walk in 2019.

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