OXFORD, Miss. – Mississippi's football program has received a reality check. Now it's time to see if the Rebels are resilient.
No. 24 Ole Miss (3-1, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) is trying to fix several issues as it prepares to face Auburn (3-1, 1-1) on Saturday. The most pressing: an offense that was non-existent in a 25-0 loss to No. 1 Alabama on Saturday.
The Rebels managed just 205 total yards — including only 46 rushing yards — against the Tide's defense. Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace said Alabama did a good job of spreading out its defensive line and not letting the Rebels' playmakers get outside for big gains.
"I've never been shut out," Wallace said. "The last couple nights — I'm still kind of upset about it."
The lopsided loss represents the first real adversity the program has faced in a while. The Rebels had won five straight games, dating back to last season, and started this year 3-0 for the first time since 1989.
Ole Miss will be on the road for the fourth time in five games. Auburn is coming off a bye week.
Freeze said he spent much of Sunday going over offense's abysmal performance against Alabama, but didn't believe the offense would need any wholesale changes. He said the offensive gameplan wasn't the major problem against the Tide — it was poor execution.
Ole Miss is using several young offensive linemen and Alabama was consistently able to overpower the Rebels at the line of scrimmage.
"If you draw it up on the board it looks really good," Freeze said. "But you've got to win some battles."
Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said Ole Miss moved the ball on Alabama but "just couldn't capitalize." He said the Tide's performance was impressive, but wasn't sure how useful the game film would be for the Tigers.
"You can get a lot of good ideas from other people's defenses, but if it totally gets outside your scheme of defense it's very difficult to tinker with that in three days." Johnson said. "We might see a few things we like, but some things are just not within our system."
Auburn is giving up 22 points per game, which ranks sixth in the SEC. Ole Miss beat Auburn 41-20 last season in Oxford to snap a 16-game conference losing streak.
But Freeze says this year's Auburn team is much different under first-year coach Gus Malzahn.
"They remind me a lot of us last year," Freeze said. "Very, very hungry team that plays with great emotion, great energy and great passion. That doesn't surprise me at all with Gus' leadership. I know that they're off to a great start and have been very, very good at home."
The Freeze-Malzahn friendship should bring some added intrigue to the Ole Miss-Auburn matchup. The two have an intertwined background that includes success at the high school level — Freeze in Tennessee and Malzahn in Arkansas — before a quick rise through the college ranks. Both are disciples of the quick-tempo offense that has become so popular in the past few seasons.
Freeze eventually became a successful coach at Arkansas State and jumped to Ole Miss in 2011. Malzahn took Freeze's job at Arkansas State and was hired by Auburn in 2012.
Now they're both fighting for position in the SEC's loaded Western Division. Freeze said the Rebels' immediate future will be largely dependent on how they respond to adversity.
"You never like losing, you never like looking at the what-ifs and wishing you had done something different," Freeze said. "But that's part of the game. 60 teams do that every Saturday. What kind of team you become is usually defined after difficult moments."
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