Auburn didn’t get much done in the passing game, but the running game did enough. In particular, quarterback Nick Marshall’s read-option runs were huge.
It looked as though Ole Miss was determined to err against the running back on the read option, and Marshall turned his chances into big runs to key three Auburn touchdown drives, two in the first half.
Marshall was Auburn’s leading rusher at halftime with 84 yards on five carries. He finished with 140.
He also had chances for big plays in the passing game but overthrew Sammie Coates on a deep ball and wide-open tight end Brandon Fulse down the sideline.
Auburn kept pressure on Ole Miss quarterbacks Bo Wallace and Barry Brunetti, and that was a key.
Three times, Ole Miss moved into scoring position in the first half and twice settled for field goals. The other time, Robenson Therezie picked off a Wallace pass and ran it back 78 yards for a touchdown.
Auburn’s defense outscored Ole Miss’ offense 7-6 in the first half. This despite spending 21:06 out of 30 game minutes on the field during the first half.
Ole Miss finally got into the end zone twice on the second half, and deep passes to Donte Moncrief were big, but Auburn was willing to risk that to keep pressure on. It worked for six sacks.
It was a pretty uneventful night on special teams, with one notable mishap. Auburn tried a fake for a 2-point conversion after the Tigers’ first touchdown, but holder Ryan White’s pass was off.
Also, kicker Cody Parkey missed a 54-yard field goal attempt.
Otherwise, Parkey didn’t miss his extra points and hit a 23-yard field goal, and punter Steven Clark was solid. The Tigers didn’t give up big returns.
Auburn’s biggest special-teams play was Clark’s punt downed at the Ole Miss 1-yard line with five minutes to play and the Tigers protecting a 27-22 lead.
Auburn’s defensive braintrust kept pressure on Wallace and Brunetti with a nice mix of blitzes and straight rushes, and the decision to go after the quarterbacks at the risk of giving up big plays worked more than it didn’t. Wallace’s two bombs to Moncrief in the second half were the bad that Auburn took with the good.
Credit, too, to Auburn’s offensive coaching for sticking with the run and not forcing the pass. It was working, and Marshall was off in the passing game.
This was a victory Auburn had to have, and it improves Auburn’s odds of reaching eight victories on the season. The Tigers (4-1, 2-1 SEC) are looking at likely losses to Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama down the stretch. They also have to win on the road, at Tennessee and Arkansas, to reach eight victories. But eight victories would be better than most expected after the 3-9 crash of 2012.