Two teams seemingly headed in opposite directions will clash when the Ole Miss Rebels host the No. 15 Auburn Tigers at 7:15 p.m. ET Saturday at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford (SEC Network).
The Tigers (5-2, 3-1 SEC) will take a four-game winning streak into the game after beginning the year with losses in two of their first three games, albeit to highly regarded Clemson and Texas A&M.
The Rebels (3-4, 1-2) lost their last two games and have fallen under the .500 mark for the first time since they were sitting at 5-6 late in the 2012 season before winning their last two games.
And while the Tigers look to establishing themselves as a challenger to SEC West Division leader unbeaten Alabama, the Rebels find themselves needing to win three of their last five games to reach the six-win level for automatic bowl eligibility.
And one more thing: The Tigers are coming off an impressive 56-3 dismantling of an Arkansas team that dealt the Rebels a 34-30 setback the week before. The Rebels lost 38-21 to LSU last week while the Tigers were churning out 543 yards rushing against the Razorbacks. That's the most ground yardage ever for an SEC team against an SEC opponent.
"When we get the tempo going, especially being able to tempo and downhill run, we are at our best," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said of the offensive explosion that saw the Tigers average 9.5 yards a carry.
That creates a worrisome scenario for the Rebels, who are having problems stopping people. After surrendering an SEC single-game school record of 284 rushing yards to LSU star running back Leonard Fournette last week, the Rebels are 113th out of 128 FBS teams against the run and don't rank any better than 70th nationally in pass defense, total defense or scoring defense.
The unit now will be tasked with trying to halt, or at least slow, an Auburn offense that seems to be hitting its stride.
Quarterback Sean White is playing with confidence and has become a team leader since getting off to a slow start. The sophomore, who started five games last year, threw a touchdown pass and rushed for another in the rout of Arkansas.
The Tigers also displayed their depth in the backfield. With starter Kerryon Johnson held out to protect an ankle injury, backup Kamryn Pettway rushed for a career-high 192 yards and two touchdowns. Johnson likely will return against the Rebels.
"I'm sure they're going to come out and see it as a weakness to run the ball," Ole Miss defensive end Victor Evans said. "We've just got to handle it."
Ole Miss' offense, meanwhile, seems to be running into a wall in the second half of recent outings. The SEC's second-ranked scoring offense has scored 10 total points in the second half of losses to Arkansas and LSU -- all of them coming in the fourth quarter against the Razorbacks -- and mustered just 104 yards in the final two quarters against LSU.
"I wish I knew," quarterback Chad Kelly said when asked what was behind the recent second-half struggles. "We've just to play harder and have the mental makeup that we're going out to the second half to a team that's going to make adjustments. We've got to execute better."
Going against Auburn's defense is not exactly an easy way to remedy the situation.
A healthy Carl Lawson is leading the surge up front. The Auburn junior has been a terror off the edge with 6.5 sacks and eight tackles for loss. Senior tackle Montravius Adams has three sacks and six tackles for loss as the Tigers have recorded 18 sacks and 46 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
"Maybe the best defense as far as points per game that we've seen," Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. "Only giving up 14 points a game is unheard of almost these days.
"You watch them on tape and you see why, and now their rushing game is back to what they've been known for. So they are an outstanding football team that will provide us another great challenge."