Ole Miss vs Auburn: Three takeaways from Saturday’s game

Published 12:00 pm Sunday, October 16, 2022

Ole Miss fended off a scrappy Auburn team 48-34 on Saturday to remain perfect on the season as they used a devastating rushing attack to wear down the Tigers over the course of the game.

The Rebels (7-0, 3-0 SEC) found themselves in hot water a few times throughout the course of the game, but a 41-yard touchdown from freshman Quinshon Judkins midway through the fourth quarter put the game out of reach.

The win marked an important victory for Ole Miss in what many considered to be a trap game before the Rebels head on the road for matchups with LSU in Baton Rouge and Texas A&M in College Station before returning home to face Alabama.

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Here are three takeaways from the Rebels’ win over the Tigers, and what it means the rest of the way:

The rushing attack is tops in the nation

A week removed from throwing for 448 yards in a road win over Vanderbilt, Ole Miss rushed for 448 yards against a strong Auburn defensive line in a game where they struggled to find any kind of rhythm in the passing game.

The Tigers entered Saturday’s contest with the No. 31 passing defense in the country, and did an excellent job disrupting the Rebels’ screen game on the perimeter and preventing stars like Jonathan Mingo and Jordan Watkins from taking the top off the defense with deep routes.

Ole Miss worked with what they were given however—rushing for the most yards in an SEC game since 1979.

The Rebels had three players eclipse 100 yards on the afternoon: Judkins rushed for 139 yards, fellow running back Zach Evans ran for 136 and quarterback Jaxson Dart scampered for 115.

It was the first time Ole Miss had three 100-yard rushers in a single game since game-by-game data became available in 1976.

A major topic of discussion coming into the season was how the Rebels would replace their three-headed rushing attack from last season, but they now boast the top ground game among Power Five schools and the No. 3 rushing offense in the country.

While Dart continues to be a work-in-progress at the quarterback position, Ole Miss is in good shape offensively thanks to that potent ground game and should have no problem putting points on the board as they begin facing tougher and tougher defenses with a difficult stretch of their conference schedule looming.

The defense is… good? Bad? Just OK?

The Ole Miss defense has been wildly inconsistent this season.

The Rebels look dominant sometimes, like when they forced two fumbles to seal the win in the final three minutes of a thrilling victory over then-No. 7 Kentucky, but they also look like a group without an identity at times.

They gave up 262 yards on the ground to a pass-heavy Tulsa offense on Sept. 24, and were gouged for 301 yards on Saturday by an Auburn offense that was averaging less than 150 yards per game on the ground entering the contest.

So what went wrong in those games?

In short, it looks like the defensive intensity and focus wavers from game to game, and even from quarter to quarter.

They did not do a good enough job setting the edge and swarming to the football against Auburn’s Tank Bigsby, who is one of the most talented running backs in the country.

Bigsby has extremely strong legs and a low center of gravity, which allows him to break through arm tackles with ease and pick up extra yards.

The Ole Miss defense, which swarmed to the football with remarkable intensity against Kentucky, allowed Bigsby to pick up plenty of yards after contact as they struggled to bring the physical tailback down despite stacking the box and getting into the backfield.

The Rebels now rank 33rd in pass defense, 68th in rush defense and 34th in total defense, but still rank in the top 20 in scoring defense with 17.3 points allowed per game.

If Ole Miss can channel the same level of defensive intensity that they mustered against the likes of Kentucky and Georgia Tech, they should have no problem picking up a pair of wins in tough environments over the next few weeks. If not, the Rebels may be looking to snap a losing streak when Alabama comes to town on Nov. 12.

At long last… a win over Auburn

I went to school at Ole Miss from 2016 to 2020.

The Rebels didn’t beat Auburn once during that stretch.

Lane Kiffin and company snapped a six-game losing streak to the Tigers with Saturday’s victory, which many Ole Miss fans viewed as a trap game before heading on the road the next few weeks.

Auburn was 35-10 all-time against Ole Miss coming into this weekend’s matchup, and chaos always seems to follow the Tigers when they come to Oxford.

Saturday was no different, as the four-hour, 19-minute contest was disrupted by numerous reviews, a fan breaking onto the field before being absolutely leveled by security, and a 30-minute lightning delay before the Rebels wrapped things up with an interception by Deantre Prince that iced the game with 2:34 remaining.

It may not have been pretty, but Ole Miss fans will take any win they can get over the Tigers.

What comes next?

Ole Miss has their work cut out for them the rest of the season.

The Rebels travel to Baton Rouge next week for a matchup with LSU before heading to College Station to take on Texas A&M the following week.

The Tigers secured a signature victory on the road over Florida this week, and will be hungry for another big win against an undefeated Ole Miss squad.

The Rebels have the advantage on paper, but will need to be on top of their if they want to escape Death Valley with a win.