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Rebels seek elusive conference win on the Plains of Auburn

 

This weekend the Ole Miss Rebels (2-5, 0-4 SEC) will head to the Plains to take on the No. 23 Auburn Tigers (5-3, 3-2 SEC) in hopes of breaking a 10-game SEC losing streak that stretches back to last season’s 42-35 win over Kentucky. Saturday will be the Rebels first road game since traveling to Fresno earlier this month, where Ole Miss came out with a 38-28 win. The atmosphere inside of Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium will be a whole different animal to overcome. 

The Rebels have not won at Auburn since 2003, having lost six of their last seven meetings with the Tigers.

Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt and his staff are not worried about who they are playing, but they are staying focused on a playing a complete game Saturday.

“Every team is good and I am more concerned about our guys,” Nutt said. “We have to play at a very high level for 60 minutes, not just 30 or 40, but every single play and series.

“Auburn, again, losing so many players wasn’t expected to do what they have done. They went to South Carolina and won. They beat Florida. They have won a lot of games. They are defending national champions and that is what has carried them in the games that are close. They were behind Utah State and won the game at the end. They have had close games, and they finish them. I am not worried about their mindset; I am worried about our guys.”

The Rebels have not been able to play a complete game all season. It started with the BYU game in which the Rebels blew a 13-0 fourth-quarter lead and transpired again last Saturday when Ole Miss led Arkansas 17-0 in the second quarter before the Razorbacks scored 29 unanswered points and won 29-24.

“When you don’t have success, it is easy to fall into that mindset of something bad is going to happen, even when good things are going on,” he said. “We have to have the mindset that good things are going to happen. Guys are going to make plays. We are going to win. We have to keep believing that and playing for 60 minutes.”

Finishing games has been the theme of this week’s practices.

“I just want them to come out and play hard with a lot of passion and energy,” he said. “Put 60 minutes together like I know they can. Finish.

“I’ll tell you one thing: we’re going to come out of the dressing room (at halftime) different.”

As far as game planning for Auburn, the defense will need to raise its game to another level, particularly stopping the run, for the Rebels to pull off the road upset. Defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix knows how explosive the Tiger offense can be.

“(They are) very multiple, explosive,” he said. “They do a great job of formations. You have to be disciplined in your assignment and play disciplined football.”

While the Tigers have played three different quarterbacks this year in junior Barrett Trotter and sophomore Clint Moseley, traditional drop-back passers, and freshman Kiehl Frazier, who is more of a dual-threat quarterback, the most important thing for the Rebel defense to focus on is the running game.

Auburn is averaging 183.2 yards on the ground this season behind sophomore running back Michael Dyer and junior running back Onterio McCalebb. Dyer is averaging over 100 yards per game and has eight touchdowns, while McCalebb has 387 rush yards this season with two touchdowns.

In order for the Rebels to contain those two backs, junior defensive lineman Uriah Grant said the defensive unit needs to be more physical and do some other things better.

“Go harder,” he said. “We watch the film and one half there’s one team and the second half it’s another team. We just need to transfer that over and be more physical for the whole game.”

On the offensive side of the ball, the Rebels will try to put together four quarters of sound football.

“(Auburn’s defense) can run,” offensive coordinator David Lee said. “They are a good defense. They are a defending champion, and they are going to give us all we want over there on Saturday night in a hostile environment. We’re going to be ready for it.”

Junior quarterback Randall Mackey will get his fourth consecutive start and his first SEC road start, but Lee thinks he has grown, matured and will be just fine Saturday.

“He’s progressing,” Lee said. “We’re pleased with his progress, but he’s not where I think he has a chance to be. He can still be getting better.”

For Ole Miss to be able to go into Auburn and come out with a win, the coaches, players and fans know the team will need to play a full 60-minute game.

Kickoff between the Rebels and the Tigers is set for 6 p.m. from Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala., and will be televised nationally on ESPNU.