Auburn returns to Jordan-Hare Stadium this week against a very young Ole Miss football team trying to navigate through the SEC and grow as they do. With a run-heavy offense under the guidance of first-year offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez (former Arizona, Michigan and West Virginia head coach), the Rebels will be looking to pull a major upset.
For a more in-depth look inside the Ole Miss program, we caught up with Nick Suss, Ole Miss beat writer for the Clarion-Ledger. Here is what he had to say going into Saturday’s game.
What changed to allow Ole Miss to be so productive with its running game?
When you hire Rich Rodriguez as your offensive coordinator, you pretty much know what you’re going to get. He loves to run the ball, and from Day 1 after his hire he made it pretty clear that Ole Miss was going to be a downhill, run-first team. On top of that, losing wide receivers like A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf and DaMarkus Lodge while returning a running back like Scottie Phillips and signing two studs like Jerrion Ealy and Snoop Conner kind of makes the choice for you. But then you throw in quarterback Matt Corral’s injury that led to the emergence of running quarterback John Rhys Plumlee. The rushing attack really took off when Plumlee assumed the role of the signal caller. Over the last four weeks, Ole Miss’ offense has been borderline identical to the one Auburn fans might be used to, with a dual-threat quarterback rushing more than he’s throwing and an offense built around misdirection in the backfield more than spacing downfield.
How does the Ole Miss two-QB system work? How are they used and how do they complement each other?
Honestly, it works differently every week. Against Missouri, Ole Miss alternated quarterbacks by drive until the third quarter, and then rotated within drives in the fourth quarter. Against Texas A&M, Corral and Plumlee rotated by play on multiple drives, but it became pretty clear that Plumlee was the base quarterback and Corral was the change of pace — which is weird. Because in most two-quarterback systems, your dropback passer is the base guy and the runner plays the change-of-pace role. Ole Miss does it oppositely. That said, it’ll be interesting to see how Plumlee is used this week since he’ll be coming off a minor knee surgery he had following the Texas A&M game. He’s cleared and participating in practice, but it’s yet to be known if this will limit him at all.
Ole Miss will win if...
Sometimes you have to run into the eye of a storm. The only way Ole Miss wins this game is if the Rebels can do what seemingly no one has done and run consistently against Auburn’s front seven. The other side of the ball is a battle of weakness-versus-weakness. Ole Miss has the worst pass defense in the SEC. Auburn has the second-worst pass offense in the conference. That battle may come down to which team makes the fewest unfortunate mistakes. But on the other side of the ball? Ole Miss needs to find a way to control the line of scrimmage to have any chance of scoring against Auburn. The Rebels’ receiving corps has underwhelmed all year and the passing attack has been spotty at best. The one reliable facet of the offense has been the running game. Ole Miss can’t get trapped in long downs and distances and expect to win this game.
Auburn wins if...
Ole Miss doesn’t play out-of-its-mind great. It’ll take a massive effort and plenty of good bounces for Ole Miss to win this one. It’s likely that Ole Miss can hang around, just like it did against Missouri and Texas A&M and even Alabama, to an extent. But unless Auburn turns the ball over at an unprecedented rate or Ole Miss capitalizes on three or four big plays that flip the pace of the game, Auburn should be able to win this one.
They said it:
“This is a really good football team. Offensively, they have a really good mixture of a power run game and the speed sweeps. You have to be able to defend the perimeter. They have a very good downhill run game. Defensively, it’s one of the top defenses we’ve faced since I’ve been here. They’re good in the interior and the secondary and very physical at linebacker. We’re going to have to do a good job of not getting negative plays and protecting the ball. These guys get turnovers. When you drop back, they pressure the passer and create turnovers with their physicality. We’ll have to play well on the road against a very good team.” — Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke on Auburn.