Rebels with a Cause

Ole Miss looks to improve postseason aspirations while sending Auburn further into the abyss

Despite suffering blowout losses to Alabama and LSU, the Ole Miss Rebels are in good position to return to a bowl game for the first time since 2015.

Rebels head coach Matt Luke has unleashed a prolific offense with senior quarterback Jordan Ta’amu leading the way. In seven games, Ta’amu has passed for 2,298 yards and 15 touchdowns and is second on the team in rushing with 253 yards. The Rebel offense is averaging 41.6 points and over 550 yards per game to rank among the nation’s best.

However, the Rebels will be without standout receiver D.K. Metcalf for Saturday’s matchup with Auburn after he suffered a season-ending neck injury in last week’s 37-33 win over Arkansas. Not all is lost as wideouts A.J. Brown and DeMarkus Lodge, who have combined for 85 catches for 1,116 yards, should keep the Rebel offense clicking.

Ole Miss will need to continue putting points on the board as the defense has shown no improvement from 2017 and is currently 110th nationally in scoring defense, allowing 35.1 points per game. Luke knows that Ole Miss’ hopes of postseason play depend on its high-octane offense continuing at a torrid pace.

While Ole Miss is closing in on a welcomed bowl bid, the Auburn Tigers are reeling. A preseason Top 10 selection, Auburn has stumbled to a 4-3 record. Consecutive losses have Tigers fans questioning the massive seven-year extension head coach Gus Malzahn received at the end of 2017.

Jarrett Stidham – Photo by Todd Van Emst/AU Athletics

With the Auburn running game non-existent, quarterback Jarrett Stidham has been under siege all season and unable to continue his tremendous play from 2017. While the Rebel offense has moved up and down the field at will, the Tiger offense has been underwhelming and forced the defense to win games all by its lonesome.

Unfortunately for Auburn, the defense got shredded by Mississippi State on the ground and allowed Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano to 328 yards passing in the Volunteers’ 30-24 upset victory at Jordan-Hare Stadium last Saturday. If Auburn has any hopes of turning its dismal season around, the defense will need to return to form after two lackluster performances.

Although both are charter members of the Southeastern Conference, Ole Miss and Auburn played sporadically until 1990. Since then, Auburn holds a decisive 22-6 advantage and leads the overall series 32-10.

The rivalry really took off in 1999 when Rebel coach Tommy Tuberville bolted to the Loveliest Village on the Plains, leaving the Ole Miss faithful feeling betrayed after he had proclaimed, “They’ll have to carry me out of here in a pine box.” Unfortunately for the Rebels, Tuberville won seven of his 10 matchups with Ole Miss and led Auburn to a No. 2 national finish in 2004.

The most memorable moments in the series include Rebel great Eli Manning keeping Ole Miss’ dream season alive in 2003 with a comeback victory in Jordan-Hare and Auburn’s Pat Sullivan and Eli’s father, Archie, duking it out in the 1971 Gator Bowl that saw Auburn hold off the Rebels 35-28.

Can Ole Miss continue its aerial assault or will the Tigers find their footing after two uninspiring outcomes? Look for the Rebels to win a close game in the final minutes with Ta’amu and his talented playmakers proving too much for a reeling Auburn ballclub.H&A

Kickoff for Auburn versus Ole Miss is 11 a.m. CDT on ESPN.

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