Last season, a first-year head coach out of Arkansas State got a signature win at home that gave a positive sign that his program was headed in the right direction. In 2012, that was Hugh Freeze and the Ole Miss Rebels with a 41-20 victory over the Auburn Tigers. This year, the Tigers returned the favor, giving Gus Malzahn, in his first year over from Arkansas State, a big win over Ole Miss, who was #24 in the AP poll going into the game.
Auburn emerged victorious 30-22 on Saturday.
The Tigers were propelled to victory by a strong start as the team led 27-9 with 6:35 left in the third quarter. However, the Rebels fought back with deep passes to Donte Moncrief, who finished with two touchdowns in the second half.
Moncrief finished the game with 122 yards, and quarterback Bo Wallace put up big numbers as well with 336 yards in the air. However, Wallace’s performance was a little rocky as he had several questionable throws that included two interceptions.
Junior quarterback Nick Marshall fueled the offensive production for the Tigers as he threw for 93 yards in limited opportunities in the passing game but made most of his plays on his feet, gaining 140 yards on the ground and scoring two touchdowns.
Defensively, Robenson Therezie was stellar, and scored a first quarter touchdown off of his third interception of the season. Ryan Smith also had an interception on the game, showing a profound difference from a secondary that only had two interceptions all seasons in 2012. However, the primary difference came from incredible production along the defensive line with six sacks, four in the second half, coming from the Tigers defensive line.
Freshman defensive end Carl Lawson, ranked the #1 overall recruit in the 2013 class by Breitbart Sports, outperformed consensus #1 Robert Nkemdiche of the Ole Miss Rebels, and he was seemingly in the backfield the entire game. Gabe Wright, Dee Ford, and LaDarius Owens also came up big in the pass rush.
The win is big for the Tigers, who had two opportunities to really put the game away, but had fumbles that kept the Rebels in the game. They now stand 4-1 (2-1 in the SEC), and have proven to be worthy of Top 25 consideration. With two additional likely wins in October, against Western Carolina and Florida Atlantic, the Tigers, 3-9 overall and winless in the SEC a year ago, may be bowl eligible before November. It also makes a strong statement in the battle for fourth in the SEC West.
However, the win came at a cost for Auburn. Standout freshman defensive tackle Montravius Adams and sophomore linebacker Cassanova McKenzie both left the game with injuries. Additionally, Nick Marshall was hurt in the fourth quarter and the Tigers’ faithful will be hoping the junior college transfer recovers quickly. Auburn already has a large number of injuries that have affected their team.
For Hugh Freeze, who has turned around the Ole Miss program, the loss is the second in a row after a 25-0 defeat at the hands of Alabama. Still, there are plenty of positive signs for the Rebels. The impressive recruiting haul brought in by Freeze in February has numerous players in starting positions who should develop well in the coming years.
Auburn hosts Western Carolina next week while the Rebels will host Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M Aggies.