Coach Gus Malzahn believes his Auburn Tigers, which dropped to 4-4 with a 27-19 loss to No. 19 Ole Miss on Saturday, can still compete with any team in the nation.
“This team is growing,” Malzahn said according to the Opelika-Auburn News’ Tom Green. “We can play with anybody, and I think everybody can see that.”
The Tigers certainly hung around with the No. 19 Ole Miss Rebels in a losing effort, thanks in part to a slew of big plays.
Auburn struggled to control the line of scrimmage against the Rebels defense. The Tigers ran for 125 yards on a meager three yards per carry. Malzahn mentioned the poor running game as a reason for the loss, but brought up something else that stood out to him more.
“We had trouble running the football, and that had a big factor in the game,” Malzahn said according to Green. “But what stands out to me is 2-for-15 in third downs.”
A reason the Tigers might have struggled in the running game was the absence of Peyton Barber, who carried the ball just eight times for 17 yards on Saturday. Malzahn said that Barber was banged up and held out of practice earlier in the week, according to the Opelika-Auburn News’ Dana Sulonen. Junior Jovon Robinson carried the load in the backfield with 18 carries for 91 yards.
The Tigers were egregious on third down on both sides of the ball. Auburn also allowed Ole Miss to convert 7 of 18 third down conversions, including twice on pivotal possessions that led to points for the Rebels.
One of the biggest storylines was quarterback Sean White’s health. White was listed as a game-time decision Saturday morning and played the entire game with a brace wrapped around his left knee. Malzahn praised his redshirt freshman QB for gutting it out against a fierce Ole Miss defense.
“We didn’t know if he was going to be good to go until pre-game, but he is a champion,” Malzahn said.
The Tigers will have to continue to compete against some tough SEC competition. After being predicted to compete for the SEC championship, and perhaps the College Football Playoff, the Tigers will have to grind out three victories against Texas A&M, Georgia, Idaho and Alabama just to become bowl eligible (Auburn’s Week 2 win against Jacksonville State doesn’t count toward its bowl eligibility).
A season filled with much hope has not panned out for Malzahn’s squad. But the coach continues to believe his team can right the ship for a respectable season.