Oct. 5, 2013
AUBURN, Ala. - It's amazing what a 3-9 season can do to perceptions. Auburn's 3-1 record has created no buzz.
The Tigers staged an impressive second-half rally at LSU before falling 35-21. The most popular take, despite no evidence at all to back it up, is that somehow LSU let up in the second half.
To believe that, you'd have to believe that LSU backed off by throwing on every possession but the last one, by faking a field goal in the fourth quarter and was perfectly happy to let its defense be totally gassed while Auburn ran 48 plays in the second half.
But that's where Auburn finds itself.
Senior cornerback Ryan White put it like this: "We can only blame ourselves, and we're the ones who have to do something about it."
The Tigers have an opportunity tonight when they play No. 24 Ole Miss at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Rebels are the opposite of Auburn. They went just 7-6 last season. They were crushed 25-0 at Alabama last Saturday. But they continue to be nationally ranked.
Breaking it down:
Friends square off for the first time
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn and Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze didn't follow the normal path to become SEC head coaches. Both were high school coaches not so long ago, and they've been pals since their high school days. Both have expressed some discomfort about their first game against each other, but they might as well get used to it. As long as they are in their current jobs, they'll meet every season.
Breakout time for Nick Marshall?
Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall
, a junior college transfer, has passed for almost 600 yards in the past two games. He has led long drives, including an 88-yard game-winner against Mississippi State. But he's had some turnover issues and he hasn't made as many plays with his legs as might have been expected. Is he ready to put a complete game together?
Comeback time for Bo Wallace?
Senior Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace, a junior college transfer in his second season as the starter, had perhaps the worst of game of his Ole Miss career against Alabama. It's safe to say he'll be eager to make amends tonight.
Coming off an open date
While Ole Miss was losing at Alabama, Auburn players were getting the day off last Saturday. Will they come back invigorated or will they have to shake off some rust? The answer to that question could be crucial.
Clash of the running backs
Auburn's Tre Mason and Ole Miss' Jeff Scott have been among the SEC's best so far this season. Mason is a tougher inside runner, but Scott is more explosive. Scott has rushed for 358 yards on 43 carries, an average of 8.3 yards per carry. He hasn't been stopped for a loss and has scored two touchdowns. Mason has rushed for 338 yards on 65 carries and scored four touchdowns.
Shakeup on the defensive line
Auburn has moved senior defensive end Nosa Eguae inside to tackle. Junior Angelo Blackson, a starter for the first four games, has fallen all the way off the depth chart.
Showcasing the freshmen
Some of the more highly rated recruits in the Class of 2013 will be on display tonight.
Auburn defensive tackle Montravius Adams, defensive ends Carl Lawson and Elijah Daniel and wide receivers Marcus Davis and Tony Stevens have all played significant roles.
At Ole Miss, defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche was rated the nation's No. 1 signee in February. He moved quickly into the starting lineup. So did wide receiver Laquon Treadwell and tight end Evan Engram.
Success in the fourth quarter
Auburn has been at its best in the fourth quarter this season, outscoring its opponents 27-7. Ole Miss hasn't been quite so successful, outscoring opponents 21-16 in the fourth quarter.
Auburn and Ole Miss, which run similar offenses, have struggled most in the second quarter. Ole Miss has been outscored 43-17 in the second quarter. Auburn has been outscored 28-27/
The bottom line
It's a game that looks almost dead even, and it's a big one for both teams. The winner will be primed to have a good year, maybe even better than that. All will certainly not be lost for the loser, but the road ahead will be more difficult.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: