Running Away From the Rebs How AU Handles Ole Miss

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By HARRISON TARR
FOR THE OBSERVER

It has been nearly two weeks since fans of the Auburn football program have gotten a taste of gameday. The last time the Tigers took the field was at 11 a.m. CST on Oct. 16 in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where head coach Bryan Harsin’s squad defeated the No. 17 Razorbacks in a victory that reignited a flame of hope within the orange and blue faithful.

With the week eight scheduled break from game action, Harsin and company had the opportunity to recover, improve and prepare to take on one of the most potent offenses in college football — the No. 10 Ole Miss Rebels.

Morale on the Plains is as high as it has been all season, so much so that murmurs about the possibility of the Tigers winning out have begun to cycle; the likelihood of such a feat occurring relies more upon Auburn’s ability to emerge victorious over Lane Kiffin’s rebels on Saturday; supporters of Auburn athletics should look to the matchup on Halloween eve with cautious optimism.

Should Harsin’s squad wish to win out, they must be sure to check every box in all three aspects of the game.

Here’s how the Tigers get the job done inside of Jordan-Hare on Saturday evening:

1. GET AFTER MATT CORRAL EARLY.

A preseason Heisman candidate, Corral has lived up to every bit of hype he was awarded before even taking the field in 2021. The junior sits at No. 21 in FBS passing leaders with 1,913 yards and 15 touchdowns while giving up just one interception. He’s liable to take over a game at any moment and is not afraid to scramble or keep defenses honest on designed QB runs. Auburn’s ability to force Corral to the ground — or merely limiting his time in the pocket — in the early going will prove an immediate indicator as to how much work the Tiger offense will need to do.

2. ESTABLISH — AND COMMIT TO — THE RUN GAME.

The Tiger run game has been — for lack of a better term — lack-luster to this point in the season. Standout tailback Tank Bigsby has yet to look like the unstoppable force he was in 2020, Shaun Shivers’ health has been a drawback and Auburn has seemingly abandoned the ground attack in latter portions of winnable contests. The one-two-punch of Bigsby and freshman Jarquez Hunter accounted for just 95 yards on 28 attempts in the victory over Arkansas; that caliber of results will not play well against a shaky Ole Miss defense. The more success the Tigers have on the ground, the more time they spend with possession and without the ball in the hands of Corral.

3. CALL PLAYS TO THE SKILLSET OF THE RECEIVING CORE.

For the first time in its 2021 campaign, the Auburn receiving core actually seemed to be on the same page as Bo Nix in the victory over Arkansas. Shedrick Jackson came down with five receptions for 61 yards, Demetris Robertson hauled in a 71-yard touchdown and 10 different Tigers hauled in at least one pass. Narrator: Mike Bobo needs to keep dialing up plays that work in favor of his receivers.

4. EXPOSE THE OLE MISS DEFENSE.

There are many ways to describe the Rebels’ defense as of late. For the purposes of this column, I will merely go with the term “bad.” Ole Miss checks in at No. 100 in the FBS in total defense, allowing north of 420 yards per game to opponents, 5.54 yards per play and has given up 26 offensive touchdowns through just seven games. Simply put, the Rebs let their opponents move the ball seemingly at will. Should Mike Bobo commit to the run game, there should be ample opportunity to give Bo Nix the green light to air it out and take shots downfield.

5. FORCE LANE KIFFIN TO GET RISKY.

As long as the Tigers take care of business on the offensive side of the ball, this key to success should come naturally. If Auburn wills itself into a somewhat convincing lead, Kiffin will have to get creative with his play calling. Despite having Corral’s playmaking abilities at their disposal, the Rebs — like all teams in organized sports — open up a much wider margin of error when they are forced to abandon high-percentage, conservative play calls.

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