Going into Saturday’s game against the Rebels, Gus Malzahn had every reason to be confident. His team was coming off a 56-3 destruction of Bret Bielema’s Arkansas Razorbacks, a team that had just defeated Ole Miss. And the Rebels had just dropped another game to the LSU Tigers. On the stat sheet, Auburn was heavily favored where it counted. The Rebel rush defense was allowing over 200 rushing yards per game and Auburn was best in the SEC and top three in the country when it came to running the football. Still, Auburn knew they had to prepare for a fight. And they were right, Chad Kelly and the Ole Miss offense came out firing on all cylinders in the first half, and it took some excellent halftime adjustments for Auburn to escape Oxford with a 40-29 victory.
On offense, Auburn faced relatively little pushback. The Rebel defense had no answer for the duo of Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway, the latter rushing for a career high 236 yards on 30 carries. Johnson added 42 yards rushing and 42 yards receiving, including two crucial goal line touchdowns, the last to put the game out of reach. Going forward, these two sophomore running backs are going to be the center of Auburn’s offense for years to come.
Sean White rebounded nicely from a pedestrian game against Arkansas and came up with some clutch throws. On the night, he was 15 of 22 for 247 yards, with one touchdown and no turnovers. But he made some tough throws, threading needles on multiple third downs to keep drives alive. He also came up with a huge 15 yard scramble on 3rd and 13 to move the chains on what would be a touchdown drive. After a horrible start to this season, Sean White has become the perfect quarterback for this Auburn offense.
On defense, Auburn faced their toughest test of the year. Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly broke Archie Manning’s single game passing yardage record against the Tigers defense. Saturday night, the senior quarterback was 36 for 59 for 465 yards and three touchdowns. He was also Ole Miss’ leading rusher with 40 yards on 11 carries. In the first half, Auburn had no answer for the Rebels offense and went into halftime trailing 22-20, having never even forced a punt. But Kevin Steele made crucial halftime adjustments and the Rebels only scored 7 in the second half.
Auburn’s defense also came up with some crucial plays. Early in the third quarter, with Hugh Freeze trying to make it a two possession game, the Ole Miss coach sent the offense back out on 4th and 1 deep in Auburn’s territory. Dontavius Russell busted through the line and tackled Jason Pellerin short of the first down marker.
Later in the fourth quarter with Auburn leading by four, Josh Holsey made the play of the game, intercepting Chad Kelly and returning it 47 yards to set up Auburn’s backbreaking final touchdown.
This was a huge with for Malzahn and the Tigers. It would have been very easy to let a game like this get away. Now, sitting at 6-2, with winnable games against Vanderbilt, Georgia, and Alabama A&M on the horizon, the Iron Bowl looms large as the regular season’s final game.