What to do when the options are so few?
The annual game between UGA and Florida, which has been given a three-point spread by most Vegas sports books, seems far less likely to be that close in practice. Anyone watching the Bulldogs on a regular basis knows they’re hurting with the loss of star tailback Nick Chubb, and no quarterback on their roster can make up for that loss. This year’s Gators team is simply too good to lose such a marquee game on the schedule.
South Carolina over Texas A&M? Good one. Kentucky over Tennessee? Next. Vanderbilt over Hou– haha, no.
There’s only one potential upset game living on half a prayer this week, and it’s set to take place in Jordan-Hare Stadium. Auburn will beat Ole Miss on Saturday, and here’s why:
No home away from home
The Rebels haven’t won a road game in this series since 2003. Auburn is 14-2 against Ole Miss at home all-time, and the team has scored at least 30 points in each of its last three matchups at Jordan-Hare.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn’s offense was not a pretty sight with Jeremy Johnson under center. The introduction of Sean White at quarterback combined with the emergence of reliable tailback Peyton Barber have (sort of) marked a return to normalcy for the Tigers. Yes, the Rebels turned in their most dominant defensive performance of the season against Texas A&M, which came without Robert Nkemdiche playing a single snap. But the caveat here is two-fold: The Rebels had the benefit of home-field advantage, and they were facing a quarterback in Kyle Allen who had simply forgotten how to throw the football. The sophomore, whether due to lingering physical issues or another problem, completed only 12-of-34 passes for 88 yards. Not even White can be expected to play that poorly.
The other major point here, of course, is how Ole Miss has performed on the road this season. The win over Alabama was huge, although it certainly took a couple of fortunate turns for the Rebels to seal it. Two weeks later, they were blown out by Florida, and Memphis landed a pretty decisive upset two weeks after that. Ole Miss combined to allow 75 points in those two losses. That’s not a problem that will suddenly disappear by beating Texas A&M.
The gunslinger misses his mark
Rebels quarterback Chad Kelly seems to have a little Brett Favre in him. When the junior is on, the Ole Miss offense can go toe-to-toe with any defense in the country (see: Alabama). But he’s thrown nine interceptions over his past five games, including three against the Aggies on Saturday.
The Auburn secondary is trending in the opposite direction. The Tigers have four interceptions and nine passes broken up over the last three games. And if standout pass rusher Carl Lawson can return from injury on Saturday, even in only a limited role, that’ll be a major boost for a defensive line that has lacked any sort of star this year.
Most days, Kelly will beat this Auburn defense with ease. But his propensity for mistakes can quickly alter the course of a game, and that still makes it an area of concern for the Rebels.
Malzahn makes it happen
The M.O. for Auburn over the past decade has been inconsistency. Phenomenal seasons will be followed up by huge disappointments, a couple of which have resulted in coaching changes. Coming off a brutally deflating four-overtime loss to Arkansas, this is Malzahn’s opportunity to remind the fan base what he (and specifically, his offense) is capable of with decent personnel in place.
Defensive coordinator Will Muschamp likely also realizes that his job is very much on the line. Auburn currently owns the worst scoring defense in the SEC (29.7 points per game allowed) and just let Arkansas score seven touchdowns and a pair of two-point conversions last weekend.
There’s no question that, right now, Ole Miss is the more talented team. But the pressure on both coaches makes this a mighty important game for Auburn, even if the season as a whole has lost a lot of its importance. If the Tigers players respond, Colonel Reb should watch out.
Prediction: Auburn 38, Ole Miss 34