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October 31, 2008

Ole Miss - Auburn matchups

The Match-Up: This meeting will be the 33rd all-time between the Rebels and Tigers dating back to 1928. Auburn holds a 24-8 advantage in the series. Last season, Auburn won 17-3 at Auburn. The Tigers have not lost in Oxford since 1992 and own a 8-1 advantage over the Rebels in games played at Ole Miss, including a 23-17 victory two years ago. Overall, Auburn has won 13 of the last 15 meetings dating back to 1993 and 22 of 25 dating back to Auburn's 35-28 win in the 1971 Gator Bowl.

At stake: The win over Arkansas, improving Ole Miss to 4-4 on the season, took some of the pressure off the team when it comes to bowl eligibility. With games remaining with ULM and Mississippi State, the Rebels could get to the six win level, required to be bowl eligible, without a win over Auburn. Auburn was ranked a preseason Top 10 ten, but has struggled to a 4-4 record and is coming off a 34-17 blow out loss at West Virginia and has lost three straight. While Auburn remains a tough opponent, the Rebels are entertaining a potential gift horse that looked unbeatable in the preseason and has a chance to make up ground for disappointing losses to Wake Forest, Vanderbilt, and South Carolina. A win here puts the Rebels in good shape for a seven or eight game winning season and a better bowl - which would be a remarkable achievement under first year head coach Houston Nutt.

Keys to the Game: 1) Stop the Auburn offense early. This is an Auburn offense that has struggled often this season and one that Ole Miss needs to shut down early and cause the team to continue to question their ability. Early success could mean confidence that could make this game closer than it should be. 2) Stop Kodi Burns. Burns is a dual-threat quarterback and his scrambling ability means a challenge to contain and potentially more time for receivers to work against an already challenged secondary. Ole Miss must limit his run production and put pressure on him, where he will be subject to mistakes. 3) Turnovers. The Rebels had just one against Arkansas and won the game. Turnovers have told the story of every Ole Miss game - three against Alabama in a loss, six against Vanderbilt in a loss - and limited turnovers in the Florida and Arkansas wins. The team must limit turnovers.

Ole Miss rushing versus the Auburn ground defense: Ole Miss enters the game ranked at No. 48 among 119 Division I teams, picking up 162 yards a game on the ground. The latest wrinkle for the Rebel offense, used against Arkansas, was to line wide receiver Dexter McCluster up in the running back position. It's a position that he's not unfamiliar with, having picked up more than 2,000 yards his high school senior season as a running back. He responded with 52 yards on 11 carries and the change from lining him up in the Wild Rebel was a method to get the ball in his hands as a playmaker since teams are concentrating on defending the Wild Rebel, where he had lined up earlier this season as the quarterback. However, it wasn't McCluster who did the most damage to the Razorbacks; it was junior Cordera Eason who had a career best game with 81 yards on 19 carries. The Rebels will face an Auburn run defense that is ranked No. 51, giving up 128 yards a game. Overall, Auburn ranks fifth in the SEC in total defense and will field a typical Tommy Tuberville defense - big, physical and fast. Last week against Arkansas, the game was decided, in large part, by Nutt pounding the ball on the ground when he found a soft spot in the middle of the Razorback defense. He'll need to find similar success to notch a win over Auburn.

Advantage: Even

Ole Miss passing versus the Auburn secondary: Ole Miss continues to have a reasonably good passing game, but sophomore quarterback Jeven Snead is yet to have a breakout game. That breakout game is likely not going to happen against Auburn. While Ole Miss enters the contest at No. 60, throwing for 215yards a game, Snead and his wide receiver corps will face an Auburn team ranked No. 12 in pass defense, giving up only 166 yards a game. Tuberville did mention this week in his press conference that his Tigers will likely face the best group of wide receivers they've seen all season, and Rebel burner Mike Wallace had a big game with five catches for 120 yards against Arkansas. A key for Ole Miss will be Snead's accuracy - even in his highlight reel against Arkansas - there were some throws that caused receivers to go to the ground, jump, or slow down to make receptions. After eight games, the rust should be off after sitting out last season and his accuracy should be improved. He'll have to avoid an Auburn defense that features junior defensive lineman Antonio Coleman, who tops the conference with six sack and 10.5 tackles for a loss and sophomore defensive back Mike McNeil, who is the squad's leading tackler with 43 total stops. Overall, the Rebels will be hoping an Auburn defense shows up that gave up almost 450 yards of offense to West Virginia, and not one that played better earlier in the season.

Advantage: Auburn

Auburn rushing versus the Ole Miss ground defense: Auburn enters the game ranked No. 66 in rushing offense, accounting for 137 yards a game on the ground. Junior running back Ben Tate has been their top offensive weapon, averaging 67.2 rushing yards per game with a pair of touchdowns. However, a bigger concern for Auburn is offensive point productions. The Tigers are ranked No. 102 in scoring offense at just 18. 8 points per game. Meanwhile, Ole Miss is No. 29 in rush defense, giving up 110 yards per game, thanks to the strong play of a defensive line that includes senior Peria Jerry, who has emerged as the leader on the team, along with fellow tackles Lawon Scott and Ted Laurent. The Rebel defensive ends are some of the best in the conference with Greg Hardy, who may or may not be available due to a foot injury, along with former four-star recruit Marcus Tillman. However, it may be Kentrell Lockett who is most improved and picking up any slack in Hardy's absence. The linebacker corps is solid with senior junior college transfers Ashlee Palmer and Tony Fein[d/b]. Run support from the safeties has been outstanding from senior [db]Jamarca Sanford and junior Kendrick Lewis, a former wide receiver. Key for the Rebel defense is to limit the run, force Burns into passing situations, then contain him and pressure him into some bad throws. The Rebels have the personnel to do that - but the defense must play with the intensity it did at Florida, where they constantly pressured Tim Tebow, and not lackluster, as they did the following week against South Carolina.

Edge: Ole Miss

Auburn passing versus the Ole Miss secondary: It's no secret that Auburn's passing game has struggled this season and is a key reason that the running game hasn't been effective. The Tigers come in at No. 106, gaining only 151 yards a game through the air. Junior Chris Todd and sophomore Kodi Burns have split time at quarterback with Burns getting the starting nod last time out. Todd has completed 86-of-156 for 903 yards, five touchdowns and six interceptions, while Burns is 30-of-63 for 309 yards, one score and four picks. However, it appears that the job now belongs to Burns. While Burns, a true sophomore with limited experience, gets the nod and is a big-time threat running the football, his passing is suspect at best. However, he did show improvement his last time out, hitting on 13 of 21 passes for 111 yards. The threat for Ole Miss comes not from a strong arm or pinpoint accuracy, rather Burns' scrambling ability that will place a premium on Rebel secondary players maintaining their discipline. Ole Miss is last in the SEC in pass defense and ranked No. 88, giving up almost 235 yards a game. The secondary was torched in the first half against Alabama, but played well in the second half after adjustments were made, and played well for all but the last five minutes against Arkansas last week. Look for Ole Miss to include fifth year senior Dustin Mouzon in the cornerback rotation to add depth. He started last season before losing his job this season and has played sparingly this year, but an extra body and fresh legs could benefit the Rebels.

Edge: Auburn

Special Teams: Ole Miss' secondary has played well this season and made tremendous strides since last year (click here to read more about the secondary). Place kicker Josh Shene is 12 of 13 on field goals, punter Rob Park is having his most consistent year and kick off specialist Justin Sparks has helped his team with good placement of kicks. Wallace, who handles kick returns, and punt returner Marshay Green are a threat to score on any return. Coverage teams have been more than adequate with only an occasional breakdown. Auburn comes in ranked No. 18 in net punting at 37.5 yards per kick, No. 12 in punt returns at over 15 yards a return, and No. 5 in kick off returns at over 26 yards a kick return. Kicker Wes Byrum has hit on just eight of 14 field goal attempts.

Edge: Even

Weather forecast: Mainly sunny. High 72F. Winds light and variable. Nightly low temperatures are around 40 degrees.

Broadcast information: TV: Raycom Sports (Dave Neal, play-by-play; Dave Archer, color analyst; Dave Baker, sideline reporter; Available on ESPN Gameplan and ESPN360.com. The CSS replay of the game will be Sunday at 1 p.m. RADIO: Ole Miss Radio Network (David Kellum, play-by-play; Pete Cordelli, color analyst; Stan Sandroni, sideline reporter). Satellite radio: Sirius 211 XM 199. WEB: OleMissSports.com will provide live audio through RebelVision, live stats and an in-game blog. The official Rebel athletics website will also provide a full game recap, a photo gallery and live postgame video.



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