Auburn, AL (SportsNetwork.com) - A pair of SEC teams fresh off their first loss of the season will try to rebound at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday night, as the Auburn Tigers play host to the 24th-ranked Ole Miss Rebels.
After beginning the season off the national radar, the Rebels were able to make a splash in the polls following three straight wins against Vanderbilt (39-35), Southeast Missouri State (31-13) and Texas (44-23). Ole Miss ran into a buzz saw last weekend when it lost at No. 1 Alabama, 25-0, but the defeat only resulted in a small dip in the latest poll from No. 21 to No. 24.
"We did not have answers to the stuff (Alabama) was doing defensively," Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said. "We have to go back and regroup. We have a difficult stretch of games and we can't let this one get us next week. We have to go back and put it in the trash can tomorrow after we watch it and move on."
The Gus Malzahn era of Auburn football is off to an impressive start, and at 3-1 the team has already matched its win total from a disastrous 2012 campaign. After winning each of their first three games, including their SEC opener versus Mississippi State on Sept. 14 (24-20), the Tigers suffered a 35-21 road loss at the hands of nationally-ranked LSU on Sept. 21.
It's only been a handful of game, but Malzahn is pleased with how things are going so far.
"My main thing was our team playing together, playing hard, doing what their coaches ask them to do, and getting better," he said. "At the very first of the year when I said our goal was to get better each practice and each game, it sounded like coach-speak, but it's so true with this team."
Auburn holds a 27-10 advantage in the all-time series with Ole Miss, although the Rebels came out victorious in Oxford last season, 41-20.
The Ole Miss offense got off to great start, scoring 31 points or more in each of its first three games, but it could not solve the Alabama defense in the shutout loss last week. The Rebels racked up just 205 yards on the afternoon, including a meager 46 on the ground.
"When you're not running the ball effectively against great teams, it makes for a long night," Freeze said. "(Alabama) did a really nice job of mixing things up, keeping us off balance for sure, and disguising things."
Bo Wallace couldn't lead his team into the end zone against the Tide, but he is still in the midst of a strong campaign. The junior signal caller has completed nearly 62 percent of his passes for 807 yards, run for 125 more, and accounted for seven total touchdowns while yet to throw an interception.
Although he was bottled up against Alabama, Jeff Scott has nonetheless been outstanding out of the backfield, amassing 358 yards (8.3 ypc) while scoring a pair of touchdowns.
Laquon Treadwell (205 yards) leads the Rebels in receptions with 20 but has yet to find the end zone, while Donte Moncrief (233 yards) and Evan Engram (189 yards) each have a pair of receiving scores.
Defensively, Ole Miss has allowed 24.0 ppg and 358.0 ypg, although both numbers are rather modest in an league filled with stacked defenses. The unit impressed against Alabama despite the lopsided score, holding A.J. McCarron without a touchdown pass for the first time this season.
Serderius Bryant has logged 35 tackles, 4.0 TFL and a sack despite missing a game, while Cody Prewitt has been a difference maker in the secondary with 22 stops, three interceptions and a forced fumble. Denzel Nkemdiche (82 tackles, 13.0 TFL, four FF, three INTs in 2012) is off to a slow start, having missed a pair of games due to injury, although he returned against Alabama to record four tackles.
Auburn is an improved offensive team, averaging 28.5 ppg, which is a nearly 10-point increase from last year's output.
The Tigers' strength comes in the rushing attack, where they rack up 232 yards per contest. Tre Mason leads the team in carries (65), yards (338) and touchdowns (four), although Corey Grant (239 yards, 9.2 ypc, two TDs) and Cameron Artis-Payne (207 yards, two TDs) are also actively involved.
In his first season as the starting quarterback, Nick Marshall has had some highs and lows. On the bright side, he is averaging more than 200 passing yards per game and has thrown four touchdown passes, but he has completed fewer than 59 percent of his attempts and has thrown four picks.
Sammie Coates is a big play waiting to happen out wide, tallying 306 yards and a touchdown on just 11 receptions, and his 27.8 yards per catch is tops in the nation.
Auburn's defense yields plenty of yards, ranking 13th in the SEC in total defense with 439.5 ypg, but the unit tightens up near the goal line as foes are scoring just 22.0 ppg.
Robenson Therezie has a team-high 25 tackles, and he has two of the team's four interceptions. Cassanova McKinzy has logged 21 stops and 1.5 sacks, while Jonathon Mincy has broken up four passes.