Auburn is struggling. The Tigers are off to their worst SEC start since going 1-3 to start conference play in 2015. The original goals for the season may have gone, but Auburn still needs a big second half to reach a decent bowl game. That quest begins with a trip to Oxford to face Ole Miss.
By Steve Wright
Here are the three keys:
Slow down the passing attack
This key is much easier said than done as the Rebels boast one of the best passing games in the entire nation.
What is really worrying for Auburn is that Ole Miss seemed to refine their passing game to a new level last time out against Arkansas. Long a proponent of the deep ball – and seemingly only the deep ball – offensive coordinator Phil Longo went a different route on the final two drives against the Hogs. Short, quick passes allowed the talented Mississippi receivers to work for yards after the catch, with the result being 84 and 97 yard touchdown drives.
Quarterback Jordan Ta’amu rolled to a career day throwing for just 13 yards shy of 400 to go along with a pair of touchdown passes. If Longo mixes the short and the deep ball effectively then the Auburn secondary is going to be in for a rough day.
Win on first down
The Auburn offensive drop off from 2017 to 2018 has been staggering. The main issue has been an offensive line that lost too many starters to functionally replace, resulting quarterback Jarrett Stidham running for his life and a running game that does nothing to help out.
This Ole Miss defense is bad. They rank 100th nationally in giving up 35.1 points per game and 122nd nationally in giving up an insane 498.1 yards per game. The Auburn offense has been just as bad in many ways (75th in scoring offense, 93rd in yards per game) but this is a chance for the offense to break out.
In order to do that the Tigers must win on first down. The running game has to develop a pulse, giving Stidham down and distances situations that are favorable. It is hard to be effective behind the chains, so Auburn needs to make sure that the offense is always on track.
Win the giveaway/takeaway
One problem with throwing the ball all day is that the Rebels are vulnerable to an interception and a big return. Auburn has not been good by any stretch in 2018, but the defensive line has been a bright spot with its ability to bring pressure and get to the quarterback.
Auburn needs to hope that Jamel Dean – who is listed as day-to-day – is able to recover from concussion and take his place on the field. He gives the Tigers a big, fast cover guy to lock down one side of the field, making Ta’amu throw the ball to some of his lesser favored targets.
On the flip side of this, Stidham has to take better care of the ball. He has only thrown four interceptions on the year, but his completion percentage (60%) is troubling. He had success against Ole Miss last season when throwing for 451 yards and three touchdowns, something similar would be ideal this weekend.