Updated: Nov 4
Photo by Jamie Holt/Auburn Tigers
In the anticipated clash between the Auburn Tigers and No. 13 Ole Miss Rebels this Saturday night at Jordan-Hare Stadium, the storylines extend beyond the usual gridiron narratives. Auburn’s rumored talks with current Ole Miss head coach, Lane Kiffin, and eventual hiring of previous Rebel, Hugh Freeze, eleven months ago was just the latest chapter in an odd relationship between the two schools.
"I think that actually helps a lot," Freeze said, reflecting on when he faced Ole Miss while at Liberty in 2021. “Jill and I actually talked about that. Because, you know, that removes the ‘hey, this is your first time playing Ole Miss since your departure from there’. And so, I think it's very helpful.”
Fresh off a 30-point loss to LSU, Auburn braces itself for another defensive challenge against Ole Miss. The Rebels are one of 12 schools nationally with at least 7.0 yards per play and one of nine below 23 seconds per play.
“They're similar and they go faster than LSU. Ole Miss shows more tempo most of the time. I mean, Lane and Charlie want to go fast all the time,” Freeze said. “And that's hard to prepare for sure. They do a few more things in the run game than LSU and probably in the past game too.”
Ole Miss quarterback Jaxon Dart’s success through the air has been crucial for the Rebels halfway through the season sitting at the second spot in the SEC and ninth nationally in passing yards per completion at 15.3. He's also making Ole Miss history, at seventh in all-time 300-yard games with four under his belt.
Alongside Dart, Quinshon Judkins, the pike road native and running back sensation for Ole Miss, has set records with seven multi-rushing touchdown games this season. His dynamic performances have earned him a spot on award watch lists; Maxwell, Walter Camp, and Doak Walker Awards, solidifying his status as a Consensus Preseason All-American.
“I think this is the third straight week that we'll be facing one of the top three offenses in the conference in Georgia, LSU and Ole Miss,” Freeze said. “Ole Miss, that's going to be a tremendous challenge. I am thankful that we're at home in Jordan-Hare. We need it to be at its all time best and I know it will be. We'll get ready and excited for this challenge.”
Photo by Austin Perryman/Auburn Tigers
On the Auburn side, quarterback Payton Thorne, after a challenging outing against LSU, looks to bounce back after completing 12 of 23 passes for 102 yards. In SEC play this season, Thorne holds the lowest marks in yards per attempt and quarterback rating among qualified passers.
Freeze acknowledged the team's offensive struggles, stating, "You know, offensively it's well documented. We've struggled to be consistent."
Auburn only passed for 100 yards as a team for the first time in six consecutive power five games last Saturday in Baton Rouge, LA. The Tiger’s struggle to get anything consistent going on the offensive has left Freeze and his staff with more questions than answers at the halfway point of the season.
“I mean, I wouldn't be sitting here today if it wasn't for tempo offense and RPO world. And so it's a very uncomfortable feeling for me to not be in that world,” Freeze said Monday. “But we're very, very thin and you can’t get in that kind of game last week with LSU, this week with Ole Miss. They want that kind of game. I mean, they thrive in that kind of game. So it's a struggle.”
Photo by Austin Perryman/Auburn Tigers
This work in progress offense will certainly only have a shot on Saturday to pull off a rebuild-defining upset if Ron Robert’s defense can have a flair for the big play.
“I think that they coach really well. They don't do a ton of things but they do them really well,” Lane Kiffin said. “Their defensive coordinator was at Baylor when we played them and did a great job against us then. So I think it's more of simple, effective schemes. And they play really hard and physical and tackle well.”
The Tigers are part of a select group of FBS teams that have returned both a fumble and an interception for a touchdown this season, underscoring their playmaking ability on the defensive side of the ball. With 11 turnovers forced through the first six games, Auburn's defense, led by Jaylin Simpson, remains a formidable force as they prepare to face the high-scoring challenge presented by Ole Miss.
Simpson, with an impressive four interceptions, stands among the national leaders in creating turnovers, boasting an average of 0.70 interceptions per game. His ability to disrupt opposing offenses and secure crucial turnovers has earned him a spot on the Reese’s Senior Bowl midseason All-America team.
“I just think that place, just sometimes has got some magical things happen in it. They're always sold out. The fans seem to be all in the game from the beginning and they seem to play better there especially at night,” Kiffin said.
The Tigers and Rebels are scheduled to kickoff from inside Jordan-Hare Stadium at 6pm on Saturday with the game televised on ESPN. Fans can also listen to the Auburn Sports Network’s call of the matchup on local radio stations across the state of Alabama.