Rebels Fall Short at No. 12 Auburn

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By Brian Scott Rippee, 

AUBURN, Ala. - A tumultuous three-game road trip came to an end for Ole Miss on the Plains in a 44-23 loss to No. 12 Auburn.

"Credit to Auburn," head coach Matt Luke said. "They took it to us in the first half. We struggled to score points in the red zone, missed a field goal and settled for another one. We gave up explosive plays."

The Rebels dug themselves into a multi-score hole early on that was far too deep to climb out of. Kerryon Johnson opened the scoring with a 17-yard touchdown rush, his first of three in the first half. Johnson touched the ball 28 times and gained 204 yards on the day. Auburn as a team rushed for 326 yards. The defense struggled to defend the ground attack for much of the afternoon, and penalties only compounded that.

"It was our mistakes and they were able to capitalize off of them," defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff said. "If you make a mistake in this league the talent on the other side of the ball is good enough to capitalize on it. We have to improve our mental mistakes and be more spot on because the mental mistakes we are making now are fatal."

Ole Miss drove down the field and answered with a field goal, but it was quickly negated by a screen play that resulted in a 75-yard touchdown pass from Jarrett Stidham to Ryan Davis on Auburn's first play from scrimmage. Everything was set up by Auburn's ability to run the football at will. The Tiger offense picked up large chunks of yardage for most of the game and averaged 7.8 yards per snap. Stidham hit Darrius Slayton on a fade route in the corner of the end zone on the next drive to make it 21-3 Tigers. He finished 14-21 for 235 yards and a pair of touchdown passes.

"We have to not give up explosive plays," Luke said. "We can't miss tackles, and when we get into the red zone, we have to find a way to score touchdowns not field goals."

The latter two of Johnson's touchdown rushes followed that, one from 48 yards out and one from five yards. Auburn had four 70 plus-yard drives in the opening half, and compiled 339 yards of total offense. It led 35-3 at halftime. The Tigers compiled 561 yards of total offense in the game.

Ole Miss found the end zone for the first time in the game early on in the third quarter when Shea Patterson found D.K. Metcalf in space for a nine-yard touchdown pass. It completed a 75-yard drive and brought the score to 38-10. The two found each other again early on in the fourth quarter, this one a five-yard strike to make the score 41-17. As much as the offense sputtered in the first half, it found its footing in the second half and totaled 429 yards in the game. 

"A postive was how we came out and fought in the second half," Luke said. "It was an improvement from last week." 

Patterson was 34-for-51 for 346 yards and two scores. He did not turn the football over and Ole Miss as a team did not commit a turnover. He was sacked only once against an Auburn pass rush that is one of the best in college football.

"I sat back there and wen through my reads," Patterson said. "Our offensive line did an incredible job of protecting me and giving me time. I was able to find the open guy and the receivers did an unbelievable job getting open in space."

A Jordan Wilkins touchdown late was the final of the game as the score rested at 44-23. He ran for 65 yards on 13 carries, and also caught a career high five passes for 66 yards.

The Rebels moved the football well against an Auburn defense that came into the game surrendering just 11 points per game, but Ole Miss faltered in the red zone as drives fizzled out. Gary Wunderlich was 1-of-2 on field goals, the miss was from 43 yards and clanked off of the left upright on the game's opening drive.

The team was 5-5 on red zone opportunities, but did not finish drives with touchdowns until the second half when the fate of the game had already been decided. It is an area this offense must improve in if it wants to stay in games. That was evident today. The offense moved the ball between the 20 yardlines, it just couldn't finish and couldn't keep up on the scoreboard as a result.

"The goal obviously is to score a touchdown once you get inside the 25 yard line," offensive coordinator Phil Longo said. "You want to come out of it with seven and I think that would have broken the ice for us offensively."

Luke told the team in the locker room at half time that this needed to be a turning point in their season. If nothing else, Ole Miss outscored the Tigers 20-6 in the second half and showed more fight than it did a week ago in Tuscaloosa.

"Obviously we do not like losing and we don't do moral vitories," Patterson said. "But I think we have a little bit of momentum going into next week with that second half."

With the loss Ole Miss fell to 2-3 and 0-2 in SEC play. It returns home for the first time in over a month next weekend as the Rebels host Vanderbilt. It is the first of three home games in a row for a team that has spent a long while on the road early on this season.

"Playing in Vaught-Hemingway is one of the greatest home field advantages in all of college football," Luke said. "It is huge and will be big for us."

Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m.

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