Position-by-position edge: Auburn vs. Ole Miss
This weekend’s Auburn-Ole Miss game is one of four SEC matchups involving Top 25 teams on Saturday. The Tigers will try to run their winning streak to five while the Rebels will attempt to snap their skid at two following their 38-21 loss to LSU last week.
Here’s a look at how the teams match up on Saturday night at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium (7:15 p.m. ET, SEC Network):
WHEN AUBURN HAS THE BALL
QB Sean White vs. Arkansas pass defense: White remains the SEC’s most accurate passer, completing 68.5 percent of his attempts for 1,264 yards, 7 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. That completion percentage has also helped White maintain his standing as the conference’s top-rated passer.
White rushed 4 times for a career-high 61 yards and a score in Auburn’s 56-3 victory over Arkansas last week. On the season, he has run 42 times for 113 yards and 2 TDs.
Despite not making a catch last week, Tony Stevens is still the Tigers’ leader in catches (24), receiving yards (408) and touchdown grabs (3). When opposing defenses have shut down Stevens, White has turned to any of three wideouts whose last name is Davis: Kyle (9 receptions, 212 yards, 1 TD), Ryan (22 receptions, 170 yards, 1 TD) and Marcus (13 receptions, 100 yards).
The Rebels are 10th in the SEC against the pass, allowing 229 yards per game. Senior nickel back Tony Conner (20 tackles) leads Ole Miss with 4 pass breakups and 4 passes defended while sophomore free safety Zedrick Woods tops the Rebels’ secondary with 42 stops.
Ole Miss’ pass defense has been bad so far, and White has improved in recent weeks. The SEC’s most accurate and top-rated passer gets the nod.
RB Kamryn Pettway vs. Ole Miss run defense: Pettway, who ran for a career-high 192 yards on 27 carries last week, is the SEC’s leading rusher, averaging 116.2 yards per game. He’s also tied for fourth in the conference in rushing yards (697) despite appearing in only 6 games.
Despite holding out Kerryon Johnson (538 yards, 6 rushing TDs) to help him recover from his ankle injury, the Tigers ran for a season-high 543 yards last week. Pettway was one of six Tigers to rush for at least 5.6 yards per carry against Arkansas.
Ole Miss has the worst run defense in the SEC, allowing nearly 227 yards per game. They Rebels are also next to last in the conference in rushing TDs allowed (17) and are 12th in the league in yards allowed per carry 5.2.
In its four conference games this season, Ole Miss is allowing 6 yards per carry. The Rebels have been even worse in their matchups against ranked teams in 2016, surrendering 6.5 yards per attempt.
WR Tony Stevens vs. Ole Miss pass defense — Even though he didn’t have a catch last week, Stevens has still been productive for a team that passes only 29 percent of the time. He ranks 13th in the SEC in both receiving yards and receiving yards per game (58.3).
Despite the fact that the Rebels are only 10th in the SEC against the pass, allowing 229 yards per game, don’t expect Tigers offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee to diverge from their run-first approach. Ole Miss and Auburn are tied for third in the conference in passing TDs allowed (6), and with only 6 interceptions, the Rebels are tied for 9th in the league with three other teams.
Considering that White threw only 11 passes last week after the Tigers got their running game going, it would be surprising if he exceeded 15 attempts on Saturday, otherwise it should be a quiet night for Stevens. White has passed for 200 yards or more four times season. He will surpass that total only if Auburn falls way behind, which would be a surprise.
WHEN OLE MISS HAS THE BALL
QB Chad Kelly vs. Auburn pass defense: Kelly, whose 310.9 passing yards per game led the SEC last year, is averaging 295.3 in 2016 to lead the conference once again. He also has the conference’s third-best passer rating behind White and Arkansas’ Austin Allen and is tied with Allen for third in the conference in completion percentage (62.2).
Meanwhile, Auburn should be concerned about Kelly’s ability to run. The Rebels’ second-leading rusher has run for 269 yards and 3 TDs on 64 carries.
Auburn has been outstanding against the pass, allowing 198.3 yards per game to rank third in the SEC. With 7 interceptions, Kelly is tied for the second-most picks in the conference, which is something Auburn will try to exploit despite being last in the league with only 4 INTs.
It’s a matchup that features arguably the best quarterback in the SEC going up against one of its top pass defenses.
RB Akeem Judd vs. Auburn run defense: Judd is the Rebels’ leading rusher with 382 yards and 4 TDs and on 80 carries. His biggest day of the season came against Memphis on Oct. 1, when he ran 15 times for 108 yards.
Auburn has steadily improved against the run, allowing 129.7 rushing yards per game to rank fifth in the SEC. The Tigers are also fifth in the conference in rushing yards allowed per attempt (3.7).
With Judd and Kelly being Ole Miss’ top two rushers, it should shock no one that the Rebels’ ground game is 13th in the conference. Mississippi is averaging just under 149 yards per contest.
The Rebels are also next to last in the league in rushing attempts per game (33). They are third in the league in passing attempts per contest (36); considering how ineffective the Rebels’ ground game has been, it’s surprising their run-pass ratio is as close as it is.
Auburn held Rawleigh Williams III, who is second in the SEC in rushing yards (807) and fourth in rushing yards per game (100.9), to a season-low 22 yards on 13 carries. The Razorbacks finished with just 25 rushing yards on 31 attempts.
TE Evan Engram vs. Auburn pass defense: Engram, Kelly’s top target, is the top pass-catching tight end in the SEC. He leads the Rebels in catches (40), receiving yards (605) and TDs (5) and is no worse than 4th in the conference in each of those categories.
At 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, Engram is built like former Alabama standout Julio Jones. Linebacker Tre’ Williams is having a fine season with an Auburn-leading 43 tackles, but Engram is a matchup problem for every team in the SEC.
The fact that Ole Miss has four other pass-catchers with at least 15 receptions and 201 yards will make Engram even more difficult to defend. Tigers nickel back Rudy Ford might have to step up even more than he has this season.
EDGE: Ole Miss
Despite attempting only two kicks over his last three games, Daniel Carlson still leads the SEC in made field goals (13) and field goal percentage (92.9). The Rebels’ Gary Wunderlich is right behind Carlson in field goal percentage (90.9) and is tied for third in made field goals (10).
Carlson has also put 38 of his 40 kickoffs in the end zone to lead the FBS in touchback percentage (95.0). Only 23 of Nathan Noble’s 48 kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks for Ole Miss.
Wunderlich is averaging 45.5 yards on 10 punts, while teammate Will Gleeson is averaging 44.6 yards on 19 punts. Auburn’s Kevin Phillips is averaging 40.4 yards on 22 punts.
The Rebels’ Carlos Davis is sixth in the conference in kickoff return average (21.8) while Ford has averaged 16.7 yards on his seven returns. Auburn has allowed 18.6 yards per kickoff return to rank third in the SEC. Ole Miss is seventh in the same category.