Pregame analysis of Auburn vs. Ole Miss on Saturday:
What: Auburn Tigers (6-2, 3-2 SEC) vs. Ole Miss Rebels (3-5, 2-3)
When: Saturday, 6 p.m. Central
Rankings: Auburn is No. 11 in the Associated Press poll and No. 12 in the coaches rankings. Ole Miss is unranked.
Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn
Line: Auburn by 19
TV/Radio: TV: ESPN; Radio: WTDR-FM, 92.7 (Oxford), WMSP-AM 740 (Montgomery), SiriusXM 190 (Streaming 961)
Three things Auburn must do
1. A change at center: Auburn had a lot of trouble getting drives started at LSU, but it wasn’t always the fault of the play-caller or quarterback.
On the visitors’ first play of the second quarter, a low snap led to quarterback Bo Nix getting sacked for a loss of 11 yards. On their first play of the fourth, a high snap sailed over the true freshman’s head and forced him to dive on the ball and accept a 20-yard loss.
The next time Auburn’s offense took the field, sophomore Nick Brahms had replaced senior Kaleb Kim at center. That change has a chance to stick this week against Ole Miss.
“Nick Brahms is going to get an opportunity to compete this week,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “Both those guys are going to get an opportunity to compete this week in practice and we’ll see who the best one is for the game.”
Those two bad snaps were just part of the rough day for Auburn’s all-senior offensive line. It committed five false starts (all on either third down or second-and-long), and if you take out two long D.J. Williams runs of 41 and 70 yards, the rushing attack averaged only 1.5 yards per rush.
2. Picking spots with Bo Nix.
Joey Gatewood’s departure shouldn’t considerably affect the regular flow of the offense. Auburn hardly used him outside of mop-up duty on its three-game road trip — the backup didn’t see the field against Florida, ran three times for 4 yards at Arkansas and carried only once for 2 yards against LSU.
But there is a chance it will cause Malzahn to think differently about how he uses Nix as a runner. The head coach said more than once this season that Gatewood “can run our entire offense,” which meant he at least trusted him to come in as the backup quarterback in the event that Nix suffered an injury.
It’s unclear if that will be the case with redshirt freshman Cord Sandberg, the 24-year-old former minor league baseball player who is now No. 2 on the depth chart. He has appeared in only two career games, rushing four times for 39 yards and completing his only passing attempt for 22. In more extended action during April’s A-Day spring game, he completed 8 of 9 passes for 54 yards.
Not counting 11 sacks, Nix has carried the ball 51 times for 305 yards and four touchdowns this season, which is an average of nearly 6 yards per attempt. Having a quarterback who is an effective runner “really opens things up” for the rest of the offense, Malzahn said.
3. Ole Miss running right into Auburn’s strength.
The final scores of the last three meetings between these two SEC West foes may not show it — the Tigers have won by 11, 21 and 15 points, respectively — but the Rebels have been one of the few teams that have consistently moved the ball against Kevin Steele’s defense. They averaged 482 yards in those games.
But those Ole Miss teams did their damage through the air led by high-volume former quarterbacks Chad Kelly and Jordan Ta’amu. This one is different — the Rebels rank second in the SEC averaging 232.5 rushing yards on 45.6 carries a game and 11th averaging 201.6 passing yards on 29.1 attempts.
It’s a very balanced rushing attack, too — different running backs (Scottie Phillips, Jerrion Ealy and Snoop Conner) have rushed for more than 300 yards this season, and quarterback John Rhys Plumlee ranks second on the team behind Phillips with 508 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 86 carries to go along with 456 passing yards and four touchdowns on 47.6 percent completion. He’s one of two quarterbacks who will play in the game; the other, Matt Corral, is the better passer, having completed 59.9 percent of his passes for 1,101 yards and four touchdowns.
The offense is the brainchild of coordinator Rich Rodriguez, who shares some ties with Malzahn — Herb Hand was the former’s offensive line coach at West Virginia from 2001-06 before linking up with the latter for the first time at Tulsa in 2007.
Malzahn tried very hard to sell this Ole Miss team as being a challenge for Auburn, that it’s a talented team that will benefit greatly from having a bye week to prepare for the Tigers. But the reality is that the Rebels’ only wins this season have come over Arkansas, Southeastern Louisiana and Vanderbilt — two basement-dwelling SEC teams that have a combined one conference win this season (Vanderbilt over Missouri) and a 4-3 FCS team.
Auburn 38, Ole Miss 17