Observations: Ole Miss 48, Auburn 34
Auburn fell behind 21-0 early and could have folded. A newfound running game generated a comeback effort — but the Tigers' recurring defensive woes led to another loss.
RB Tank Bigsby (Todd Van Emst/Auburn Athletics)
Owen Pappoe had perhaps the best summary of the 2022 Auburn football team after its 48-34 loss at Ole Miss on Saturday — one in which the offense finally found major success on the ground, yet the defense allowed the most rushing yardage in decades.
“It's, like, once we fix one thing we've messed up on, it's always something else, you know?” Pappoe said.
Under Bryan Harsin, Auburn hadn’t been able to run the ball well or put up good numbers on the scoreboard against quality opponents since Bo Nix went down 11 months ago. The Tigers were averaging less than 20 points per game against Power 5 foes this season, and nothing seemed to be working with the Tank Bigsby-led ground game.
The defense, on the other hand, had mostly bounced back from an ugly blowout loss against Penn State by playing well enough to give the Tigers a chance to win against Missouri and LSU. The first half against Georgia last week was promising, but the dam broke after getting nothing from the offense and racking up injury concerns.
Things completely flipped Saturday in Oxford. Auburn gave up three early touchdowns and looked like it might have been on the verge of hanging it up. Then the Tigers rallied in the second quarter to make a one-score game behind their rejuvenated rushing attack. When Bigsby broke a 50-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter, Auburn had real momentum.
But Ole Miss was able to keep Auburn at a distance the rest of the way, scoring on all four of its full drives in the second half. Ole Miss put up 448 rushing yards, rivaling some of the biggest marks Auburn has allowed in program history.
This time, the Tigers had the offense to hang around, but not the defense.
And while the game didn’t go like many expected, the result is still a rough one for Auburn. This was the first time Ole Miss had beaten Auburn since 2015 and only the fourth time ever inside its home stadium. The Tigers are now 3-4 overall, 1-3 and the SEC and have lost nine out of their last 12 — their only such skid since the 2012 campaign.
Harsin and his team, which played hard for all 60 minutes instead of packing it in, are trying to stay positive. They see their constantly shifting problems as correctable heading into an off week.
“When we watch the film, those guys know, we're a lot closer than what it seems,” Harsin said. “And so, you know, a few things here and there, that's what changes the game. But that's football as well. And the reality of it is we didn't win. Ole Miss did. They did it better than we did today. So what we have to do is go back and figure out what we can control and how we're going to improve and get better and what we can do going into the next game to find a way to win.”
Here are four main Observations, along with some Nerd Stats and the Quote of the Day, from Auburn’s 48-34 loss to Lane Kiffin’s undefeated and top-10 Ole Miss squad.
(Todd Van Emst/Auburn Athletics)
A recent bad trend turns into a historically bad day on defense
While the passing game was the biggest area of concern for Auburn’s defense earlier this season, things have tightened up, to a degree, on that end. Ole Miss quarterback Jaxson Dart completed less than 50% of his passes Saturday for less than 7 yards per attempt.
The problem was that Dart only threw the ball 19 times. Ole Miss had 68 rushing attempts and averaged more than 6.5 yards per carry. The two-headed running back monster of Zach Evans and Quinshon Judkins combined for 46 carries, 275 yards and three touchdowns. Dart had 115 rushing yards of his own.
Here’s what friend of the newsletter Nathan King of Auburn Undercover wrote about the subject:
It’s quite possibly the second-worst run defense Auburn’s ever displayed in a game. Sports Reference’s game-by-game statistical data doesn’t extend past the 2000 season, and it’s easily the most allowed by Auburn in that span. Going back to the 1971 Sugar Bowl, Oklahoma ran for 439 yards.
The most rushing yards Ole Miss has ever had in a game was during that 1951 season against Auburn (515 yards). That could be the Tigers’ worst outing ever, too, with Saturday possibly coming in second.
Unlike Georgia a week ago, this historic ground game disaster didn’t fully feel like a case of Auburn getting dominated at the line of scrimmage. Instead, Kiffin’s offense preyed on a unit that has had problems with tackling, getting into the right alignment pre-snap and — most importantly — being in the right position.
“It’s the same story this week: Misfits,” edge rusher Derick Hall said. “We gift a lot of things to teams. That’s something we have been talking about a lot. We go back and watch the tape, and if a guy is in that gap, then the play is dead. Just some things we have to continue to work on, but it’s same stuff we had seen all week. They just exploited our mistakes, and offenses want to do that.”
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