Struggling Auburn set to face No. 9 Ole Miss
Published 12:24 pm Thursday, October 13, 2022
Lane Kiffin and No. 9 Mississippi are trying to keep rolling along.
Bryan Harsin and Auburn just want to stop the bleeding.
Harsin’s reeling Tigers (3-3, 1-2 SEC) visit Kiffin’s rolling Rebels (6-0, 2-0) Saturday in a game with two programs that have headed in opposite directions the past two seasons.
“We’re at 6-0, top 10 contender right now, so I feel like a lot of guys are treating us like a homecoming game,” said Ole Miss defensive back Ladarius Tennison, a former Auburn player. “We just can’t be too comfortable being at the top.”
In fact, the Rebels had to rally to beat Vanderbilt with huge games from quarterback Jaxson Dart and receiver Jonathan Mingo. Dart passed for 448 yards, including a school-record 247 to Mingo.
Auburn, meanwhile, was getting abused 42-10 by No. 1 Georgia a week after blowing a 17-0 lead against LSU. It has increased the rumblings about Harsin’s job security midway through his second season. Upsetting a top 10 team favored by two touchdowns couldn’t hurt.
Kiffin isn’t about to proclaim himself an expert at handling life on the hot seat, currently occupied by Harsin. His own experience in that regard at USC in 2013 ended with a late-night airport firing five games into the season.
“I didn’t do very good,” Kiffin said. “I got fired after five games, so I’m probably not the one to ask how to do that. I mean, I was 3-2. I’m probably not the one to ask that.”
While freshman Quinshon Judkins and Zach Evans have powered the Ole Miss running game, Auburn’s preseason All-SEC tailback Tank Bigsby hasn’t been able to get going. Bigsby has just 198 rushing yards over the last five games, averaging 3.14 yards per carry during that span.
He gained 147 in the opener against Mercer and just 19 on 10 rushes against Georgia.
FACING FORMER TEAM
Two Auburn transfers are playing key roles on the Ole Miss defense. Defensive tackle J.J. Pegues is starting on the line and has 10 tackles, including a sack. Tennison has 23 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and two fumble recoveries in the secondary.
They’re facing their former teammates but it’s clear where their loyalty now lies.
“I still love them,” Pegues said of his former teammates. “They’re my friends. But at the end of the day we’re playing them so they’re my enemy until the end of the game.”
Auburn has won the last six meetings, including a 31-20 victory last season. But Harsin thinks the Rebels have improved.
“They are on a roll right now, they have got momentum, and I think that impacts the whole team,” Harsin said. “Their offense, we know they are going to do well on that side of the ball and they are going to have a lot of firepower over there. Defensively, they are very, very good.”
Robby Ashford has been an erratic passer with a blend of big plays and mistakes, but Ole Miss is wary of his running ability. Ashford has completed just 48% of his passes with four touchdowns against three interceptions. He’s also Auburn’s second-leading rusher with 274 yards.
“He’s an elite scrambler,” Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin said. “You’ve got to stay in the rush lanes and tackle the guy.”
Former Auburn starter T.J. Finley has missed the last three games with a sprained right shoulder but Harsin continues to describe him as “day to day” and says he is making progress.