AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn will host SEC West rival Mississippi today in a matchup of 3-1 teams coming off losses.
The Rebels outscored the Tigers 24-3 in the second half of last season’s meeting to earn a decisive 41-20 victory, and Bo Wallace led the charge on offense with four scores.
Tre Mason came out on the losing end of last season’s ordeal, but the junior running back leads the SEC’s third-ranked rushing attack in yards per game (232.3) and that could be the difference this time around.
Mississippi was shut out on the road against No. 1 Alabama in its last game and was held to 46 yards rushing despite averaging 199 on the season. Wallace was just 17-of-31 passing against the Crimson Tide defense, and the Rebels’ offense picked up only 11 first downs. Auburn fared no better against LSU as the offense was held scoreless through the first two quarters and an attempt at a comeback was too little too late.
No. 24 Ole Miss is trying to flush both its ugliest offensive showing so far and the actions of a former assistant out of its system.
Ole Miss (3-1, 1-1 SEC) sputtered from the opening play last week against No. 1 Alabama, producing season worsts in total yards (205) and rushing yards (46) on the way to its first shutout under second-year coach Hugh Freeze. It was the first time the Rebels failed to produce any points since a 34-0 loss at Arkansas when Houston Nutt was leading the Razorbacks in 1998.
“They had a good plan against us,” said quarterback Bo Wallace, who also noted that the Crimson Tide widened their defensive front to combat the Rebels’ perimeter running game, the first time Ole Miss had seen that look since last year’s Georgia game. “They played their ends wide, and it was hard for (running back) Jeff (Scott) to get outside of it.”
There’s some suspicion that a move by the Alabama coaching staff may have given the Tide some extra defensive help.
Tyler Siskey, Alabama’s associate director of player personnel who served in a recruiting position on Freeze’s staff last year, was spotted by ESPN’s cameras panning the field from the coaches’ box with a pair of binoculars. Rules allow staff members to be in the box during the game, but only in a non-coaching capacity.
Siskey’s actions quickly came to the forefront on social media as Siskey’s familiarity with the opponent had fans convinced he was relaying play calls to the Alabama sideline based on the Rebels’ personnel and formations.
Freeze shrugged it off during his weekly press conference, instead choosing to heap praise on the Crimson Tide for their preparation of Ole Miss’ up-tempo offense. Freeze said the school hasn’t contacted the SEC about the situation.
“Tyler Siskey’s a good man,” Freeze said. “I hate that it’s been quite the drama. Did I feel like they had an excellent plan for whatever reason? I did. But I’m sure (Alabama coach) Nick (Saban) prepares just like any of us would, and I’m ready to move on to Auburn.”
So is everybody else.
Auburn enters today’s contest sporting an identical 3-1 overall record and a 1-1 mark in conference play. The Tigers lost their last time out — a 35-21 setback at No. 10 LSU — but have had a week off to get ready for Ole Miss.
The Tigers, who are under the direction of first-year coach Gus Malzahn after going winless in SEC play a season ago, will be playing their fourth home game of the season. Auburn won each of their first three, outscoring Washington State, Arkansas State and Mississippi State 93-53.
Going to play a confident Auburn team at its place, wide receiver Vince Sanders knows there can’t be any lingering effects from last week’s loss in Tuscaloosa.
“They’re 3-1 just like us, so we’re kind of in the same situation,” Sanders said. “We know we can’t sit around and think about the Alabama loss because we’ve got a very important game coming up Saturday.”
The Rebels will see one of the more athletic offenses they’ve dealt with this season from Auburn’s no-huddle attack. The Tigers, who are averaging nearly 29 points a game, feature dual-threat JUCO transfer Nick Marshall at quarterback and a pair of capable backs in juniors Tre Mason and Cameron Artis-Payne.
Marshall, Mason, Artis-Payne and speedster Corey Grant have combined to give the Tigers the SEC’s third-best ground game (232 yards per game). Marshall also has thrown for 202 yards per game and has a 339-yard effort against Mississippi State to his credit.
Freeze said his defense will have to be ready for anything.
“They’re extremely athletic at quarterback, at running back, at receiver and with their DBs. (Their) O-line and D-line are physical like an SEC team should be. We’ll face an offense that is very balanced in rushing and passing. They give you a lot of looks, a lot of motions, a lot of smoke and mirrors and are very efficient at what they do.”
Meanwhile, the Rebels’ offense will try to get back on track against an Auburn defense that’s giving up 439 yards each time out, which ranks next to last in the league.
“We’ve just got to go to work,” Wallace said. “Get in here, shake some things up and go back to work.”