OXFORD, Miss. — When the Auburn defense charged back onto the field after the halftime break, the Tigers were confident and recharged — and that much closer to full strength.
At the time, Auburn’s defense was already playing well, and had held Ole Miss’s potent passing attack out of the end zone all through the first half.
And the Tigers were getting one of their leaders back.
Auburn junior safety Jeremiah Dinson returned to the field in the Tigers’ lineup in the third quarter of Auburn’s 31-16 win over Ole Miss on Saturday, and re-sparked the Auburn defense on the squad’s way to keeping the Rebels out of the end zone throughout the afternoon, up until garbage time in the game’s final minutes.
“Guys were happy I was back. I was happy I was back,” Dinson said.
“I’m just happy we got the win.”
Dinson sat during the game’s first half, suspended for those two quarters by NCAA rule after he was charged with targeting in the second half of Auburn’s loss to Tennessee last weekend.
Starting Auburn cornerback Jamel Dean was also out during the game, not making the trip to Oxford after suffering an injury last week in that Tennessee game.
Shorthanded in the secondary, the Tigers’ defense played well against an Ole Miss offense that entered Saturday averaging 41.6 points per game and 550.9 yards per game.
Auburn led 10-6 at halftime Saturday, after the Tigers’ defense held the Rebels’ offense to just two field goals in the first half.
In the third quarter, Dinson returned to the field, and helped the Tigers hold the Ole Miss offense to just a field goal as the offense built a 31-9 lead going into the fourth.
Ole Miss scored what was ultimately a meaningless touchdown when there was 2:24 left on the game clock.
“He’s very important,” Tigers star defensive lineman Marlon Davidson said. “He’s a leader. He’s that vocal guy for the secondary. He’s an old head, too.
“He changed the game when he got in. When he got in third quarter and made unbelievable plays — I’m just proud of him for coming out there and having that mental edge, even if he didn’t play (in the first half).”
Dinson said he watched the first half in the team’s locker room on a tablet. In some ways, the different perspective helped him when he stepped back out on the field, he said.
“It is pretty weird but it kind of helped me, too,” Dinson said. “Extra two quarters of film for me. I’m in there writing different concepts they’re doing down, so when I get back on the field in the third quarter, I kind of knew what they were doing.”
In the place of Dinson, Auburn freshman Smoke Monday started for the Tigers at safety. Freshmen defensive backs Jamien Sherwood and Christian Tutt played their fair share in the secondary, as well, as the Tigers made do without Dinson and Dean.
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said those Tigers youngsters played well when needed against a potent Ole Miss passing attack, that was averaging 353.1 yards per game entering Saturday.
On Saturday, Auburn’s shorthanded secondary allowed 324 yards passing to the Rebels, but only one touchdown, coming in the late stages.
“Dean, he’s an impact player, and our corners just really stepped up and played a whole lot of snaps. And not having Dinson, who is one of our leaders, in the first half — those young guys really stepped up,” Malzahn said.
“Very proud of those guys in those two guys’ absence, because when you have two of your best players that aren’t available in the first half against an offense like that, that’s a scary thought.”