In this week's Auburn football notebook, sports writer Harrison Tarr opines on a closer-than-expected Tigers win over Ole Miss, and questions why Jordan-Hare's student section was half-empty in the fourth quarter of a tight SEC game.
The Auburn faithful was more than ready for its team to return to Jordan-Hare Stadium this past Saturday, and the game day atmosphere around campus was absolutely electric.
While walking through the tailgating scene, one could smell the aroma of grilled hamburgers, greasy hot dogs and just about every recipe for home-made dip known to man. Everything about game day on the Plains was exactly what the orange-and-blue-clad fans could have dreamed of, except for one small detail: the game itself.
Gus Malzahn’s Tigers had much more trouble with Matt Luke and his Rebels of Ole Miss than expected, as the game resulted in a very underwhelming 20-14 Auburn victory. However, the scoreboard did not accurately display the true story of the game, as the stat lines were much more lopsided than the final score.
So, what do we take away from such an awkward win over a 3-win Ole Miss team?
There is a large upside to Bo Nix. The true freshman completed 30 passes on 44 attempts, accumulated a career-high 340 yards through the air and also had a cool 20 yards on the ground. The Tiger faithful have been remarkably critical of Nix through this point of the season, especially since the departure of former 4-star Joey Gatewood. But the 19-year old silenced the critics with a lights-out performance.
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So if Nix played well, why did Auburn only hang 20 on Ole’ Miss?
This might be the most puzzling question this week. The Tiger offense as a whole was remarkably effective at moving the football, yet still struggled to put points on the scoreboard. It felt like every time the orange and blue pushed the ball across the Rebels' 35-yard line, movement just came to a screeching halt.
That makes sense, but why did Auburn only connect on two field goals if the ball got into Rebel territory routinely?
A good question to ask of the coaching staff, but probably not one you would want to ask redshirt sophomore Anders Carlson. The typically automatic placekicker struggled to split the uprights on Saturday, hitting on 2 of 5 attempts, both inside 40 yards.
So scoring was a problem. What about the defense?
It feels like we say this every week, but this group is insane. The front seven held the Rebels to a minimal run game, pressure on the quarterback was remarkable — and that guy Derrick Brown? He seems to know where the ball-carrier is headed before the offense even knows. The 6-foot-5 senior recorded seven tackles throughout Saturday's contest, and managed to record an open-field tackle on a play where he was literally running to sub in for Big Kat Bryant.
It’s no surprise that Brown was named SEC Defensive Linemen of the Week — again.
The student section either didn’t wear their coats to the game, or they’re fed up with the product on the field. By the third quarter of the game, the stands surrounding the southeast corner of the end zone –otherwise known as the student section – were virtually empty, and the players took note.
As a result, Auburn Twitter was semi-chaos following the conclusion of Saturday’s game, with players getting into banter with unhappy fans, many going as far as claiming the atmosphere was unacceptable.
Auburn is now 7-2, and has already matched its win total from the 2018-19 season; however, the team has dropped another spot to No. 12 in the AP poll, and some fans are – once again – calling for the firing of Malzahn.
The head coach can likely win back the support of his fan base by winning at least two of his team’s remaining three games. But if the Tigers do not find a way to compete in a New Year’s Six-caliber bowl game, it is unlikely for a moral boost to occur.
The Tigers will have two weeks to prepare for No. 6 Georgia, which is currently fresh off a big win over the Florida. If the team wants to repair what is seemingly a divided culture surrounding the program, they must do the only thing that they have control over: winning.
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