Well, we don’t exactly know what Auburn’s going to do next. But we know what the Tigers are trying to do, and that’s a big leap forward for handicappers concerned with Gus Malzahn’s program.
In the Jarrett Stidham era, the coach experimented with a more wide-open, traditional passing style, something that put the direction, identity, and gestalt of the team under Malzahn at risk. The FBS is full of hurry-up offenses and doesn’t need another – Auburn’s comfort zone is to win with bruising defense and a great running game.
With expert game-manager Bo Nix taking snaps and a top-15 defense, the Tigers are getting back to their roots and also back to the Top 25 of Division 1. But a bear of a schedule hasn’t allowed for much breathless hype.
Oregon. Tulane. Texas A&M. Florida. LSU. The succession of powerful opponents has threatened to derail Auburn’s momentum several times over. But the Tigers have emerged through the gauntlet at 5-2, and stand as near-3 touchdown favorites to beat visiting Ole Miss this Saturday night.
Who: Ole Miss Rebels at Auburn Tigers
When: Saturday, November 2nd, 7 PM EST
Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, AL
Lines: Ole Miss (+18) at Auburn (-18) / O/U Total: (53)
Like a lot of teams at 3-5 (or worse) Mississippi has been exceptional at times against big-shot foes but prone to playing down to the competition when handed a winnable kickoff.
Not that the Memphis Tigers are a “low level” of competition. I happen to think Memphis is among a batch of American Athletic Conference programs which do not get their just due from the sports media. However, you can’t imagine there was anything but frustration on the Ole Miss sideline when the Tigers won a late-August game with 2 touchdowns and a safety while the Mississippi offense spun its wheels.
Ole Miss has tried a bunch of quarterbacks since then, namely Matt Corral and dual-threat freshman John Rhys Plumlee. Plumlee is an interesting recruit, a slender player who hasn’t always gotten it going through the air but ran all over Vanderbilt and Missouri on Read-Option keepers and pocket-scrambles.
The teen upstart was injured in the recent 24-17 loss to Texas A&M, but hopes to return this Saturday following a successful procedure:
Ole Miss coach Matt Luke said Monday that he expects freshman quarterback John Rhys Plumlee to be able to play on Saturday when the Rebels travel to face Auburn. Plumlee, who has started the last four games for the Rebels, underwent a minor procedure on his knee during the Ole Miss bye week and did not practice last week. Luke said that he expects Plumlee to be limited in practice on Tuesday as he continues to rehab but to be full-speed by Wednesday. “He was in treatment this morning,” Luke said Monday. “He felt really good. All the swelling was gone.”
Plumlee has played in five games this season, asserting himself as a gifted runner along the way. The true freshman has run for 508 yards and four touchdowns on 86 carries. He is one of three players in the SEC averaging more than 100 rushing yards per game against SEC competition this year. Plumlee hasn’t been as successful as a passer, but he’s managed to throw for 456 yards and four touchdowns with just one interception, even though he’s completing fewer than 50% of his passes. In Ole Miss’ last two games, Plumlee has rotated reps at quarterback with redshirt freshman Matt Corral. Across those two games, Plumlee has attempted 29 passes with 36 carries and Corral has attempted 33 passes with nine carries.
Ole Miss offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez said he doesn’t think Plumlee’s limited practice reps will hinder his preparation for Auburn.
I’m open-minded enough to give a QB rotation a chance, but I’ve always felt there are better ways to use 2 “starting” QBs than to simply alternate or rotate them. Vince Lombardi used to use his younger backup QB as a starter in the NFL, with the reserve passer used as a “test” to gather information to give the veteran QB, who would come in and win the game in the 2nd half. When Bill Walsh was blessed with Joe Montana and Steve Young on the same depth chart, he typically started Montana while reserving the option to put Young in if the offense needed a change.
While vinegar between the 2 49er greats may be legendary, a QB rotation even puts competing best-pals in an awkward spot as each tries to play his “own” game in parallel with the other. There will be a temptation for Corral and Plumlee to quietly track each other’s stats and %s of good reads during each contest.
Speaking of tough-sells, I’m not sold that LSU is actually the #1 team in the FBS right now – we’ll find out more about the Baton Rouge “Tigers” as the season wears on. But running back D.J. Williams and the Auburn Tigers proved that they’re back in the SEC’s ledger of elites in Week 9.
They say there’s no such thing as a “quality loss” and it’s just something Power-5 boosters made up to increase their polling advantage. I submit that a 3-point loss in Tiger Stadium is more impressive than a thousand victories over Southeast LA, the FCS cupcake responsible for 1/3rd of Mississippi’s win total.
Malzahn is tinkering with his offensive line, and a pair of injuries on the DL has some gamblers nervous about the favorite.
Such trifles overlook the big picture. Auburn is capable of beating the best in the sport – Mississippi has been struggling to contend with the 2nd-tier of CFB teams. If the game was at Ole Miss I could understand a sub-3 TD spread due to the possibility of a pitched battle with Auburn looking ahead to UGA in the scrum-to-follow. But the kickoff is at Jordan-Hare, and the War Eagle backfield will be running like rabbits.
Take the Tigers (-18) for Saturday evening.