Following one of the most disheartening losses in school history — a humiliating 66-3 beatdown at the hands of a talented, Saban-led Crimson Tide — the Ole Miss Rebels hope to bounce back this weekend as they square off with No. 12 Auburn.
Ahead of their third straight away game of the season, the 2-2 Rebels know they have their work cut out for them. While silver linings do exist and miracles happen from time to time, Ole Miss will face an uphill battle against this highly rated Tiger team.
Auburn’s defense — Alabama-like in its speed, physicality and discipline — will be just as frustrating for Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke and sophomore quarterback Shea Patterson. The Tigers’ offense, too, can create headaches for the Rebels’ at times porous defense. With more than 130 more rushing yards per game than the Rebels and 60 more total points scored this season, Auburn and its head coach, Gus Malzahn, hold a clear advantage over Ole Miss in almost every facet of the game. Do the Rebels stand a chance?
While statistics, rankings, recent history and level of game play all suggest that Auburn will control the game as the Rebels add yet another tick in the loss column, the game could end closer than fans might expect.
With a scaled-down, simplified offensive approach and a “what do we have to lose?” attitude, Patterson and his group of talented receivers will put up more of a fight than they did last weekend. A.J. Brown’s pass catching, at one point NCAA-leading in yards, is enough to strike fear into any cornerback’s mind. And while the Rebels’ run game is far from perfect, Jordan Wilkins continues to improve. The senior running back collected 101 yards against Alabama last week.
That is not to say the score will end up close enough to worry Malzahn. But the Rebels are not toothless. They will put up a fight and have the potential, recognized or not, to keep the game close — or close enough, at least.
A defeat at Auburn will mean very little for Ole Miss’ season. Perhaps more relevant than the final score, Luke and his players will focus on limiting mistakes and executing plays. After a crushing defeat, teams tend to take small steps toward gaining back momentum. Expecting a win may not be realistic, but a fundamentally sound, competitive game is not out of reach.
Another 63-point handling could take the spirit out of any team. But a solid game plan with individual development and takeaways could preserve enough of the Rebels’ confidence to compete in the upcoming weeks against Vanderbilt, LSU and Arkansas.
The Rebels have the chance to show that they are not willing to go down without a fight and improve upon last weekend’s dreadful performance. While hard work and dedication may not be enough to overcome the Goliath of this week’s matchup, the work could pay dividends in the weeks to follow.
Saturday’s game will kickoff at 11 a.m. at Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium.