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10.23.23 Football Articles


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A 'frustrating' night as inspired defensive performance is wasted for Auburn

Nathan King

5–6 minutes

The tests couldn’t have been much more difficult for Auburn’s defense to begin SEC play.

The Tigers have now faced the SEC’s top three scoring offenses in three straight games. Even going back to Texas A&M in the opener, the Aggies were highly rated offensively after averaging 44 points per game through their first three contests, with a top-10 passing offense nationally.

And most would agree Auburn passed three of those four tests, with the exception being a 48-18 loss at LSU last weekend in Baton Rouge. Texas A&M, Georgia and Ole Miss were all held below their season scoring rate against Auburn — by an average of 10 fewer points per game. Auburn succeeded in a number of other defensive categories in those matchups, too.

Yet Hugh Freeze’s team remains winless in the SEC.

The latest example of a wasted defensive performance came Saturday night in a 28-21 loss to No. 13 Ole Miss. The Rebels scored on their first two possessions before the Tigers clamped down and executed at one of their highest levels of the entire season.

Ole Miss’ next eight drives after Jaxson Dart’s 29-yard touchdown run featured an interception, three three-and-outs, four punts overall, the end of the first half, and a turnover on downs in Auburn territory — when a field-goal attempt was botched and ultimately picked off by Zion Puckett as the Rebels’ holder tried to make something out of nothing.

Late into the third quarter, Ole Miss had just one third-down conversion for the game. The yardage was there, sure, as the Rebels pounded away for 56 attempts on the night for 223 yards. But Auburn kept coming away with stops and kept the Jordan-Hare Stadium crowd active.

It almost felt like an inevitability, though, that Ole Miss would eventually slip through the cracks and generate more offense, considering the Tigers had to trot out there over and over again while its offense had just five first downs through the first three quarters.

Not a single defensive player was ready to say their unit ran out of gas, though. The only fingers point were at themselves.

“I don’t think that,” said defensive tackle Marcus Harris, who had another impressive performance with 1.5 sacks and two tackles for loss. “I feel like we’ve got to look at the mistakes and fix those mistakes and just communicate and be efficient for four quarters and we will be good.”

The score stayed knotted at 14-14 for nearly 27 minutes of game time because Auburn didn’t have any offense of its own to contribute, either. After a 53-yard Jarquez Hunter touchdown, the Tigers had just 30 yards on 21 plays over their next eight series — including just one first down.

“It's frustrating because the defense is real, real good,” tight end Rivaldo Fairweather said. “We've just got to find a way to help our defense. We will. We're just going to go back to the drawing table, practice hard and find a way to help our defense.”

But the Tigers maintained their mentality always remains the same on defense, regardless of how the offense is producing.

“We pride ourselves on playing good defense every drive,” linebacker Larry Nixon III said. “We don't really care about the score or whatever's happening — we just play defense for each other as a team.”

Added Harris on the same subject: “We like to have the pressure on us. We love to be on the field. This is what we practice for. This is what we train for all summer. We never have a problem getting back on the field. We don’t use that as an excuse. We want to keep getting better. We want to finish the game off for all four quarters. That’s our emphasis is finishing the game. The middle stretch was strong. We’ve got to finish.”

Nixon nodded along as he was asked whether he thinks the 48-point drubbing at LSU was a mulligan for this group.

“Coming back from a bye week, we got punched in the face, honestly,” Nixon said. “That's how it was. We just weren't ready — as ready as we had been past weeks.”

The numbers aren’t going to end up telling the whole story — Auburn is No. 10 in the SEC in scoring defense and No. 11 in yards per play allowed entering Week 9 — but coordinator Ron Roberts’ group has exhausted its potential in almost every game this season. The group also benefited from the return of previously injured starters Keionte Scott and Austin Keys on Saturday.

Even with the offensive faceplant on the other side, though, good isn’t good enough for an Auburn defense that feels it’s capable of being one of the best in the conference.

“Obviously we’re not doing our job,” Harris said. “I know on the defensive side of the ball, we’re going to push harder and try to get better.”

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DB target Kaleb Harris to commit 'very soon'

JD McCarthy

~2 minutes

Secondary coach Zac Etheridge and Auburn have been pursuing in-state safety Kaleb Harris for years and that hard work could be paying off soon.

The Alabaster, Alabama product visited the Plains this weekend to watch Auburn take on Ole Miss and spoke with Auburn Undercover’s Christian Clemente after the game and revealed he will be committing “very soon.”

Harris has seen his recruitment take off due to a strong senior season for Thompson High School. The 6-foot-2, 195-pounder has made 59 tackles, 7.0 tackles for loss and picked off three passes in six games.

The visit allowed him to see what his role could be on the Plains.

“I think I could fit where Keionte Scott plays, that nickel,” Harris explained. “I can play in the box, I can blitz, I can cover. I think that’s my best fit.”

Harris is the No. 679 overall player and No. 74 safety in the 247Sports composite ranking. He is also the No. 31 player from Alabama. Auburn has received two crystal ball predictions to land Harris from 237Sports writers.

Contact/Follow us @TheAuburnWire on  X (Twitter), and like our page on Facebook to follow ongoing coverage of Auburn news, notes, and opinions. You can also follow JD on Twitter @jdmccarthy15

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Auburn opens as home favorite against Mississippi State

Nathan King

~3 minutes

Two teams with first-year head coaches are a combined 1-7 in the SEC

For the first time this season, Auburn is favored in a conference game.

Still searching for its first SEC win of the Hugh Freeze era, Auburn (3-4, 0-4 SEC) will have seemingly its best opportunity thus far to snap its losing streak, facing Mississippi State (4-3, 1-3 SEC) next Saturday inside Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Tigers opened as 4.5-point favorites for the SEC West matchup at Caesars Sportsbook, and a 5.5-point favorite by DraftKings on Sunday afternoon. FanDuel has the opening line as big as 6.5 points in favor of the home team.

Auburn has been a significant underdog in each of its four SEC losses: 9.5 points at Texas A&M, 14 points at home against Georgia, 11 points at LSU, and 6.5 points over the weekend against Ole Miss. The Tigers are 2-4 against the spread this season, only covering in the season opener against UMass (+33.5) and against Georgia.

Mississippi State has failed to cover the spread in five of its seven games, though it did so Saturday afternoon when it beat Arkansas 7-3 on the road for the first SEC win of Zach Arnett's head-coaching career. Without starting quarterback Will Rogers due to a shoulder injury, Mississippi State's defense stepped up and held the Razorbacks to just 2.9 yards per play and forced two turnovers. Arkansas fired offensive coordinator Dan Enos on Sunday afternoon.

After the passing of Mike Leach forced a systematic change on offense, the Bulldogs have been near the bottom of the SEC in most offensive categories this season, including No. 11 currently in both scoring and total offense.

Auburn is reeling offensively, too. The Tigers had six three-and-outs in a 28-21 loss to Ole Miss, and had only five first downs entering the fourth quarter. Their passing offense remains the SEC's least efficient by a decent margin.

Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. CDT on SEC Network.

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You can’t mess those up’: More struggles on late downs haunt Auburn in loss to No. 13 Ole Miss

Updated: Oct. 22, 2023, 8:57 a.m.|Published: Oct. 22, 2023, 8:00 a.m.

6–7 minutes

The fourth quarter had just gotten underway, and the Auburn Tigers were trailing the 13th-ranked team in the country by just one score when the Auburn offense eyed a 3rd-and-1 situation deep inside its own territory.

However, instead of drawing something up and hoping it could surge ahead for a 1-yard gain, the Auburn offense broke the huddle with 12 players, drawing a 5-yard illegal substitution penalty — turning a 3rd-and-1 into a 3rd-and-6.

Just like that, Auburn had made an already hard situation even harder for itself.

On the ensuing play, running back Jarquez Hunter rushed for just three yards, forcing Auburn to punt the football on 4th-and-3 from inside its own 35-yard line.

“The margin for us between winning and losing right now is so small that you can’t mess those up,” said Auburn head coach Hugh Freeze after Saturday night’s 28-21 loss to Ole Miss.

Auburn has been allergic to finding success on critical downs all season long, with the issue becoming especially evident on Sept. 30 as the Tigers narrowly fell to the top-ranked Georgia Bulldogs at home.

While Auburn quarterback Payton Thorne and Auburn’s receivers struggled to connect for completions, Georgia quarterback Carson Beck had no trouble finding tight end Brock Bowers in the fourth quarter, paving the way for the Bulldogs’ come-from-behind win.

But it was the fact that both those issues mounted on third and fourth downs that really jabbed at Auburn’s side. The Tigers’ offense combined for a 3-for-15 effort on third and fourth downs, while the Auburn defense allowed Georgia to go 8-for-13 in the same category that afternoon.

“You look at our third-down offense and you look at our third-down defense, and I think that’s where the game was lost for us,” Freeze said after the loss to Georgia.

And from that point forward, Auburn’s success – or lack thereof – on late downs was said to have received a lot of attention during the bye week, which came between Auburn’s game against Georgia and its game against LSU.

Defensively, Freeze asserted that the Tigers were too predictable on third down.

Meanwhile, Freeze said Auburn’s third-down offense just needed fixing. Period.

However, neither of those things – regardless of how much attention they received – seemed to have been improved upon in Auburn’s loss to LSU last week or in its loss to Ole Miss on Saturday night.

When Freeze was interviewed by ESPN in the first half of Saturday’s game, he once again harped on the importance of finding success on late downs.

“We have to stop their explosive plays on defense, and we have to continue to convert third and fourth down,” Freeze told ESPN after the first quarter. “I think that’s going to be the stat for us.”

And if that’s the stat that Saturday’s game hinged on, it’s no wonder the Tigers found themselves on the losing end of the stick.

Auburn’s offense was 6-for-17 when trying to convert on third or fourth down. And while that was better than Auburn’s opponent – whose offense converted just four of 15 attempts on third or fourth down – it was how the Tigers’ late-down struggles unfolded that seemed to sting the most.

At the end of Auburn’s first offensive drive, quarterback Robby Ashford and the Tigers were faced with a 4th-and-1 situation near midfield and Freeze decided to gamble early, keeping the punt team on the sideline – after all, the game was young, Jordan-Hare Stadium was juiced, and the Tigers needed just one yard.

However, that one yard proved too much for the Auburn offense as Ashford’s rush up the middle was stuffed for no gain, turning the ball over on downs and giving the Ole Miss offense a short field for its first possession of the night.

And though the field was just 52 yards long, a slew of penalties and some nice plays from the Auburn defense first forced the Ole Miss offense into a 3rd-and-17 situation, followed by a 3rd-and-22 situation and later a 4th-and-1 situation.

The Rebels’ offense converted each of those en route to the endzone to take an early 7-0 lead over the Tigers.

“We continue to lose the battles on third and fourth down and that’s disappointing,” Freeze said after Saturday’s loss.

The key word there being “continue”.

Prior to Saturday night’s game, the Auburn offense ranked 110th out of 133 FBS teams with a third-down conversion rate of just 33.33% – a mark that ranks last in the SEC. On 4th down, the Tigers’ conversion rate sat at 41.67% – a mark good for 99th in the country.

Meanwhile, Auburn’s third-down defense ranked 69th in the nation coming into Saturday night, with the Tigers allowing their opponents to convert 38.67% of the time.

So yeah, Saturday’s struggles on late downs were nothing new. But when Freeze was asked point-blank why Auburn continues to struggle in the same areas on Saturdays, he couldn’t come up with an answer.

“I can’t answer the exact why,” Freeze said. “Combination.”

But what Freeze does know – or believes, at least – is the fact that many of the issues as they relate to Auburn’s lack of success during critical downs falls on his shoulders.

“Regardless of whether you may be the most talented team on a certain night, you certainly can be well-coached in critical areas and critical downs,” Freeze said.

“I’ve got to do a better job to make sure we don’t make those mistakes in those areas. And I don’t know that it makes the difference in the game, but it sure feels like it. We’ve gotta convert those critical downs.”

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Looking for a positive from Auburn’s loss to Ole Miss? Look at the stands behind the SW endzone

Updated: Oct. 22, 2023, 10:30 a.m.|Published: Oct. 22, 2023, 10:17 a.m.

6–7 minutes

Hugh Freeze and the Auburn Tigers’ losing skid continued Saturday night as they suffered a 28-21 loss to the 13th-ranked Ole Miss Rebels.

For the second time in four weeks, a stadium full of Auburn fans were sent home discussing the would’ve and could’ve beens after watching their Tigers fall to another ranked opponent in a one-score game at home.

The going had officially gotten tough, as evident of the boos that bellowed off the walls of Jordan-Hare Stadium in the third quarter as the Auburn offense sat stuck with its tires spinning. Except this week, it felt as though the Tigers themselves were the ones pointing a water hose at dry dirt and making it a muddy mess.

“Offensively we kept shooting ourselves in the foot it felt like and they made some plays too,” Freeze said. “But some of it was of our own doing.”

Auburn just couldn’t get out of its own way Saturday night, making silver linings hard to find.

However, if one pulled their eyes away from the scoreboard and box score and instead looked in the direction of the southwest endzone of Jordan-Hare Stadium, those silver linings are there — there were about 30 of them there.

Saturday night’s game at Jordan-Hare Stadium — albeit against the 13th-ranked team in the nation — wasn’t a marquee game that featured an opponent like Alabama or Georgia. But that didn’t stop Freeze and his staff from making sure it was still an environment they could capitalize on from a recruiting standpoint.

In the Thursday leading up to the Ole Miss game, Freeze remarked on the importance of gamedays from a recruiting perspective during his time on Auburn’s Tiger Talk radio show.

“I don’t even get to think about the game until literally… I’ll probably get out there with about 30 minutes left in warmups and you know it’s go time then,” Freeze said Thursday. “I just think I have to recruit so hard right now and there’s so many good players coming to our games and I feel like I have to meet with them.”

With 40 minutes left before kickoff on Saturday, Freeze wasn’t in the locker room doing last-minute preparations, hyping his team up during warmups or scouting the Rebels as they warmed up.

Instead, Freeze stood at the midfield Auburn logo along with a congregation of about 20 high school and junior college prospects. He’d throw his arm behind a neck of one while shaking hands with another.

While Freeze understands he was hired to win football games, he also understands he was hired to repair a program that hadn’t seen a true effort in recruiting in many years.

Wanna talk about pointing a water hose at dirt and making it a muddy mess? Putting recruiting on the backburner in the SEC will certainly do that.

Heck, some might even say that’ll turn dirt to quicksand.

But Freeze has made a strong effort to kink the water hose pointed at Auburn’s recruiting situation. And that continued Saturday night under the lights of Jordan-Hare Stadium, where the Freeze and the Tigers hosted approximately 30 recruits.

“We’ve got another big group coming this weekend,” Freeze said Thursday. “We got two official visits — two guys we really want — and plus a bunch of five- and four-star kids that there will be at the game.”

Auburn’s official-visitors list featured a pair of JUCO prospects in 3-star defensive lineman Brien Taylor and 3-star safety Laquan Robinson.

While Taylor holds offers to continue his playing career at a four-year university from schools like Florida, Georgia, Oregon and Tennessee, should he accept Auburn’s offer, he’d add himself to a list of former Buccaneers that made their way to The Plains.

Another example? Cam Newton.

Robinson, on the other hand, visited Auburn by way of Holmes Community College in Greenville, Ala. to take a look at what the Tigers have to offer.

Fortunately, the Auburn Family showed out in the masses for the first true night game of the season.

Joining the pair of JUCO commits in the southwest endzone Saturday night were a slew of blue-chip targets.

Ryan Williams, a 5-star wide receiver committed to Alabama, was on hand for the game against Ole Miss, indicating that Freeze and the Tigers hadn’t backed off their pursuit of the No. 1 player in the state of Alabama.

Auburn also hosted wide receiver Caleb Cunningham and cornerback Na’eem Offord — a pair of uncommitted 5-stars in the 2025 class.

All the while, as evident by the number of Auburn commits in attendance, Freeze’s recruiting doesn’t end until the ink has dried on a player’s national letter of intent.

Wide receiver Perry Thompson and linebacker Demarcus Riddick — two 5-stars that committed to the Tigers over the summer — arrived to Jordan-Hare Stadium together on Saturday.

Meanwhile, 10 other Auburn commits spanning the 2024 and 2025 classes were welcomed to The Plains Saturday.

“I’ve said since I got here — and I hope everybody keeps hearing me — but you know, the ‘24 and ‘25 class will really tell the story of how fast we can close the gap on the upper echelon in this conference,” Freeze said Thursday.

Folks will say what they will about the results Freeze has come up with on the scoreboard through seven games as Auburn’s head coach. But you’ve gotta hope they’re considering not only the muddy-mess-of-a-roster that was inherited last November, but the legwork that’s gotta go into getting it fixed.

And as indicated by the mass of recruits and their families sitting just beyond the south endzone wall on Saturday night, it’s clear the legwork is there — which is a notable change when compared to the last staff at Auburn.

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PMARSHONAU Sunday reflections from Auburn and beyond

Phillip Marshall

10–13 minutes

A look back at at a wild college football weekend

Opinions on Auburn’s offense

What has Auburn’s offense in such a rut? I have some opinions. Some of them are informed and some of them are, well, just opinions. Clearly, playing consecutive games at Texas A&M, against Georgia, at LSU and against Ole Miss was always going to be a tremendous challenge. Georgia, LSU and Ole Miss are among the top 10 in the country in total offense.

The mission has been to try to slow those games down and get to the fourth quarter with opportunities to win. Playing at a slow pace is not comfortable for head coach Hugh Freeze or offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery. They felt, however, that they had to protect a very thin defense.

It worked to an extent. Auburn was within a touchdown of Ole Miss and was tied with Georgia going to the fourth quarter. It lost both games by a touchdown. The quarterback rotation between Payton Thorne and Robby Ashford has been unwieldy.

Going slowly with an RPO offense designed to go fast is difficult. Combining two schemes is difficult. Both quarterbacks have had difficulties with RPO reads. Wrong reads or missed assignments often result in poor plays in both the running game and the passing game.

I will be surprised if the pace doesn’t pick up significantly in the games to come. Auburn’s offense has clearly been at its best in two-minute mode, both last week at LSU and Saturday night against Ole Miss.

First Auburn season tests Freeze

Freeze is going to take a social media beating in the days ahead. That’s part of the business, I guess, though I despise it. It’s been a difficult season or, more accurately, a difficult four games. It has no doubt been a test for him, for his players, for his staff and for Auburn fans.

I feel certain Freeze would do some things differently if he had them to do over. Things have happened that I don’t understand, but I am nowhere near qualified to say what should have been done differently. The difference in a good play or a bad play and a good decision or a bad decision is whether it works.

Here is what I know: Freeze inherited a terrible situation. Could it have looked better? Sure. Would people feel better if he was getting beat 42-28 or 42-35? Probably, but nothing would actually be different. People would probably feel a lot better if he’d not opened his first Auburn SEC schedule with a veritable murderer’s row. He has operated away from his comfort zone on offense in an effort to give his team a better chance to win. It has not worked against good teams, and Auburn has lost four consecutive games.

But all the name-calling and hand-wringing in the world isn’t going to change anything. Auburn will be good to great again when Auburn has enough talent to be good to great again. It has enough talent to beat Mississippi State, Arkansas, Vanderbilt and New Mexico State. But it doesn’t have so much that it can’t lose to those same teams.

Judkins could have been at Auburn

Every time I watch Ole Miss running back Quinshon Judkins, I shake my head. Judkins played at Pike Road near Montgomery. He would have been Auburn’s for the asking. Former Auburn coach Bryan Harsin was not interested. He went to Ole Miss, where he arguably the top running back in the SEC. On Saturday night, he rushed 21 times for 124 yards against Auburn.

Strange happenings on a college football Saturday

--Unbeaten Washington and Heisman Trophy favorite Michael Penix did not score an offensive touchdown in a 15-7 win at home over Arizona State, which fell to 1-6.

--A former walk-on quarterback who just went on scholarship this year led Utah’s drive to the game-winning field goal in a 34-32 win over USC.

--North Carolina’s perfect season is gone after a 31-27 home loss to Virginia, one of the worst teams in the ACC and one that had never in all its history beaten a top-10 team on the road.

--Mississippi State and Arkansas played either, take your pick, an old-fashioned football game or a game between two dreadful offenses. Mississippi State won 7-3 in Fayetteville.

--Iowa had what would have been a game-winning punt return against Minnesota wiped away when officials called an illegal fair catch signal. I don’t believe anyone could watch the video and believe that call made any sense.

Officials’ flags continue to fly

I have said this after other Saturdays. The number of flags flying out of officials’ pockets seems out of control. And if you are looking for consistency, you won’t find it.

An official threw a flag for interference on Washington near the goal line. After officials gathered to talk about, the referee waved it off and said the contact was legal. The replay showed the defender grabbing the receiver’s jersey and almost pulling it off his shoulder pad, losing his grip and grabbing it again. How could that happen? I have no idea. Don’t even get me started on holding calls.

Houston was driving inside the 10 for what would have been the tying touchdown against Texas. On third-and-one, the running back clearly – and I mean clearly – made the first down. The officials ruled him short. On fourth down, a pass fell incomplete and Texas won 31-24.

Some officials love to call unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on end zone excitement. Some – the good ones – try to avoid it. It’s a stupid rule. Unless a player is taunting another player, why make a call? It has no impact on the game unless flag-happy officials deem it should.

Officials twice spotted the ball improperly in Alabama’s game against Tennessee, both in Alabama’s favor. The second one was overturned on replay because it was put down close to two yards behind where it should have been

Breakout game for Hunter?

Auburn running back Jarquez Hunter looked more like his old self than he has at any time this season, rushing 15 times for 91 yards, including a 53-yard touchdown and a 2-yard touchdown. It would be extremely helpful to Auburn if he can again be the back he was the previous two seasons.

About that sign-stealing

In the 2013 BCS Championship Game, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher complained that Auburn was stealing their signs. Well, duh. Dameyune Craig, then Auburn’s receivers coach, had been on Fisher’s staff the season before. Florida State never changed its signs. Craig, of course, knew them.

That’s the kind of sign-stealing that is perfectly legal. What Michigan is accused of is not legal. Coaches tell me that in-game sign-stealing is not as valuable as one might expect. Opponents could still pull a fast one and show one thing and run another. Even knowing the signs don’t usually give away the exact play and where it will go.

Another struggling offense

Bad offense might be contagious. Look at Arkansas’ stats against SEC teams.

19.6 points per game

0 rushing touchdowns per game

83.6 rushing yards per game

177 passing yards per game

9.4 first downs per game

24 sacks

A banner year for Eli Drinkwitz

If I had a vote for Coach of the Year, I believe it would go to Missouri’s Eli Drinkwitz. His Tiger are 7-1 overall and 3-1 in the SEC, their only loss coming in a shootout against LSU. Drinkwitz was named Missouri head coach in 2020, and it hasn’t been easy. His records before this season were 5-5, 6-7 and 6-7. He sure seems to have it going now.

Until next time …

An 'incredible night' at Auburn can't propel Tigers to ranked win

Auburn has now lost nine of its last 12 Power Five matchups at Jordan-Hare Stadium

The stars weren’t necessarily aligned, but the Ole Miss game still felt like a decent spot for Auburn to shake off some of its problems this season and play — and possibly win — a big game at home.

After all, the last time these Tigers took the field in Jordan-Hare Stadium, No. 1 Georgia needed a late score to win. Auburn was one of the only teams in college football to play three of its first four Power Five games on the road, and its performance in a near-upset against the Bulldogs was by far the most complete of the bunch.

A charged-up environment, with the backdrop of Auburn’s fancy new stadium light show, and a crowd hungry for a win with their team’s back against the wall, in a sense, felt like an ideal setting for the Tigers to work their way off the schneid.

Some classic Jordan-Hare magic would have been timely for this team. Saturday night provided no such luck.

Auburn hit a brick wall on offense in the second quarter and failed to take advantage of an inspired defensive performance, as the Tigers’ home roar transitioned to groans in the second half of No. 13 Ole Miss’ 28-21 win.

“What a great crowd we had,” Hugh Freeze said. “It was an incredible night, and really felt like we would be in this game for the entirety. And it's just we couldn't and we had our chances.”

Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin cited plenty of stats this week about the advantages Jordan-Hare Stadium provides, and had to look no further than when the Tigers nearly toppled the two-time defending national champions a few weeks ago.

No amount of pyrotechnics could generate any fireworks for Auburn’s offense, though, which had just five first downs entering the fourth quarter.

Auburn players after the game were quick to express their gratitude for how the crowd remained active and loud — though the fans clad in orange and blue were given plenty of reasons to be frustrated down the stretch.

“They really bought the energy today,” linebacker Larry Nixon III said. “I felt it. I'm really disappointed that we couldn't get a win for them, though.”

As Auburn racked up stop after stop on defense — the scoreboard knotted at 14-14 for nearly 27 minutes of game time — the Tigers’ own offense had no answers. They had two interceptions and six punts after tying the game in the second quarter, before Payton Thorne led a quick drive down the field to cut the lead to one score late in the fourth quarter.

Auburn players certainly weren't happy to send a packed house home without a win again.

“We're going to do our best to come out here with a win and make them happy next time,” tight end Rivaldo Fairweather said.

What was once a feared home-field advantage hasn’t been able to offset the program’s recent woes. Auburn has lost nine of its last 12 games against Power Five opponents on Pat Dye Field.

And at 0-4 in SEC play to begin Freeze’s tenure, the Tigers know that trend can’t continue if they want any hope of returning to a bowl game.

“We've got to go back to the drawing table and come back with a better plan for Mississippi State,” Fairweather said.

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Instant Analysis: Ole Miss edges Auburn with strong 2nd half effort

Taylor Jones

~4 minutes

The Auburn Tigers entered Saturday’s game with No. 12 Ole Miss in search of their first SEC win. For a half, it appeared to be in sight.

However, the goal was short-lived as Ole Miss pulled away from the Tigers in the second half to earn a 28-21 win on Saturday night at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn.

Auburn (3-4, 0-4 SEC) tied the game at 14-14 early in the 2nd quarter, which remained the score until halftime. Ole Miss (6-1, 3-1 SEC) went on to outscore the Tigers, 14-7 in the second half to pull out the win.

Although Ole Miss won the game by one score, they dominated the yards game. The Rebels outgained the Tigers, 425-275 and recorded 18 more offensive plays. The largest discrepancy was in the passing game, as Ole Miss passed for 202 yards while holding Auburn to 102 yards.

Robby Ashford started the game for the Tigers at quarterback and was trusted to run the entire first drive. He completed two pass attempts for 16 yards and rushed for 11 yards. However, he was halted on a fourth down play at midfield to end the initial drive.

The Rebels first drive saw them commit four penalties. However, it affected them minimally as they were able to score. Ole Miss quarterback Jaxson Dart connected with Zakhari Franklin from 11 yards away to put his squad ahead, 7-0 with 4:55 remaining in the opening quarter.

Ole Miss’ lead was short-lived, as Jarquez Hunter sprinted 53-yards on the fifth play of Auburn’s next drive to tie the game. Payton Thorne did not attempt a pass on his first drive, but managed to rush for 13 yards.

Dart responded on the next drive by rushing 29 yards to push Ole Miss back in front, 14-7 to end the first quarter. The score came on a 4th down and 1 play, and Dart rushed up the middle to score.

The lone score of the 2nd quarter belonged to Auburn. With 11:41 remaining in the first half, Hunter scored his second touchdown of the night out of the wildcat formation to tie the game at 14-14. Hunter ended the first half with 63 yards on nine carries.

It took a while for either team to find pay dirt in the 3rd quarter, but Ole Miss was able to retake the lead as the quarter expired. Dart scored his third touchdown, his second on the ground, to cap a eight-play, 90-yard drive. The Rebels gained 118 yards of total offense in the 3rd quarter while Auburn managed to gain just 14.

The nail in the coffin was driven in with 7:51 remaining in the 4th quarter. Running back Quinshon Judkins scored his first touchdown of the game by rushing four yards to extend the Rebels’ lead to 28-14.

Auburn was able to put one more score on the board with 0:56 to go in the contest. Tight end Rivaldo Fairweather caught the first receiving touchdown of the game to cut the lead to 28-21. Auburn’s onside kick attempt failed, thus ending the game.

Auburn passed for just 122 yards in the game, with Thorne leading the way with 100 yards. Hunter was the team’s leading receiver and rusher. He recorded 54 yards through the air while rushing for 91 yards.

Defensively, Auburn recorded eight tackles for loss. Marcus Harris led the way with two tackles behind the line of scrimmage, and finished with seven total stops. Larry Nixon led the team with eight total tackles.

Auburn returns to Jordan-Hare Stadium next Saturday to face Mississippi State at 2:30 p.m. CT. The Bulldogs pulled off a defensive win on Saturday, knocking off Arkansas, 10-7.

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Auburn report card: More failing grades after another ugly game, losing 28-21 to No. 13 Ole Miss

Updated: Oct. 22, 2023, 9:51 a.m.|Published: Oct. 22, 2023, 6:05 a.m.

6–8 minutes

Auburn looked as bad as it has all season in a 28-21 loss to No. 13 Ole Miss on Saturday. The score was not indicative of how this game went.

Auburn was outgained 425-275. Ole Miss had the ball for about nine more minutes. Auburn’s offense was awful once again. It’s the same problems that keep coming up and Auburn hasn’t found an answer.

It was a fourth straight loss to Auburn, which is now 3-4 overall and 0-4 in SEC play.

Largely, it’s the record many thought Auburn would have right now, but the way it has lost has been far more the issue than just losing. It puts Auburn into a suddenly questionable spot for making a bowl game. More on that below.

Let’s get right into grades. They aren’t good.

Offense: F

It didn’t matter what quarterback was playing. This offense is bad. And this was rock bottom.

Auburn had 26 yards passing going into the fourth quarter. It would pass for 96 more in the fourth quarter, 47 on them coming on one play — a catch and run to running back Jarquez Hunter. But all those yards were effectively meaningless as they came with Auburn down two scores and the result of the game no longer in question.

Auburn is passing for barely more than 100 yards in SEC games. This offense is historically bad. Auburn’s ranking as a bottom-10 offense in terms of passing yards per game is only going to get worse.

Auburn was 4-13 on third downs.

Auburn’s offense only made one first down between the 10:40 to-go mark in the first half and the end of the third quarter. That’s abysmal. Auburn had five three-and-outs and punted six times. It threw two wildly costly interceptions and turned the ball over on down on its first possession.

So the fans booed. They deserved to boo.

Defense: A-

Auburn’s defense deserves so much better. In the Auburn report cards this season, the story over and over has been Auburn’s defense played valiantly but is not being helped by a horrendous offense.

There was a stretch from the start of the second quarter until the very last second of the third quarter where Auburn held Ole Miss without a point. That’s a monumental effort against a very good Ole Miss offense.

Auburn forced two turnovers on downs, three three-and-outs and an interception in that time frame. Ole Miss only had two drives in that time that went more than 15 yards. Defensive lineman Marcus Harris was great again and cornerback Keionte Scott looked good in his return.

But it was never going to last. It can’t forever, especially when the defense was left out on the field for nearly 35 minutes.

Ole Miss broke through finally with two straight touchdowns. The defense finally breaking was the dagger in the game for an offense that certainly wouldn’t be able to respond.

But the defense is not at fault at all for this loss. Not even close.

Special Team: B

Oscar Chapman netted just under 50 yards per punt Saturday. He punted seven times. That’s too many punts. But he was good.

Auburn didn’t use Alex McPherson for any field goals. Auburn didn’t return a kick and Koy Moore was not good as a punt returner with -4 yards total on three attempts.

There were also a few close calls that could have impacted the result of this game, highlighted by freshman Kayin Lee not fully getting a hold of an Ole Miss muffed punt. Auburn needed that ball badly in the hindsight of this game. Should’ve, would’ve, could’ve.

Coaching: F-

Offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery cannot and should not recover from this game. The continuing and repetitive failures of this offense fall purely on head coach Hugh Freeze and Montgomery. This is a coaching issue, not a talent gap issue, at this point.

Freeze, to his credit, has not shied away from blame. But it’s the same blame he’ll put on himself each week. It’s poor alignment, missed protections or the wrong routes run. These are issues that could have been corrected but they haven’t been.

The offense is anemic, the flaws fundamental and the means haven’t changed.

The booing of fans Saturday night was quite indicative of a situation that has reached a breaking point.

Montgomery’s contract includes a full buyout of its total value of just over $3 million. Auburn isn’t likely to cut ties with him now, but it’s hard to see a way Auburn can move forward into next season with him.

Public opinion is unlikely to flip back with an offense that doesn’t appear capable of improving significantly now seven games into the season.

It’s an overall failure of a hire by Freeze as things stand, who picked Montgomery to call plays and allow himself to focus on the necessary recruiting ahead for Auburn. But Montgomery’s inept offense has forced Freeze to take on more responsibility than he imagined.

It can’t continue for the long-term vision of Auburn to work. Auburn had its bye week to fix things and it looked awful against LSU. It looked even worse on its home field. This situation is bad with no route of improvement.

Overall: D-

The defense is the only reason this isn’t a failing grade. That was embarrassing for Auburn. There was so much socially at stake here with Freeze facing his former employer and against Lane Kiffin, a man who was reported to have accepted the Auburn head coaching job before Freeze was hired.

So much so, in fact, that Ole Miss roasted Auburn in a tweet for it all.

Auburn is now in a perilous position looking at its bowl eligibility.

At 3-4, Auburn has won every game it was supposed to win and lost every game it was supposed to lose. There is no shame in that. The issue is the way Auburn has lost.

It now sets Auburn up for a must-win game next week against an equally struggling Mississippi State team. Should Auburn lose, it would require Auburn to either win at Arkansas or win the Iron Bowl coupled with wins over New Mexico State and Vanderbilt just to get to 6-6.

The road to six wins is clear, but without any margin for error.

While patience was expected in year one under Freeze, failing to make a bowl game would make for a season without any steps forward.

Matt Cohen covers Auburn sports for AL.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @Matt_Cohen_ or email him at mcohen@al.com

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Auburn football grades vs. Ole Miss: The offense was bad, but defense deserves credit

Richard Silva

~3 minutes

AUBURN — Auburn football coach Hugh Freeze is still searching for his first win against an SEC opponent since getting hired on the Plains.

The Tigers fell to Ole Miss, 28-21, on Saturday. It's the fourth straight loss for an Auburn team that's struggled to put points on the board since dropping 45 against Samford on Sept. 16.

Here's how we graded the Tigers in their game against Ole Miss:

Offense: D-

Auburn's offense just isn't working, and its problems feel unsolvable over the last five regular-season games of the season. The Tigers finished with 122 passing yards, and aside from a 53-yard touchdown rush from Jarquez Hunter in the first quarter, there was next to nothing in terms of production.

REVISITING THE SEARCH:The ratings system, interview process behind John Cohen's decision to hire Hugh Freeze

NORTH END ZONE:Auburn continues 'internal conversations' related to renovations of Jordan-Hare Stadium

Defense: A-

The scoreboard saying the Tigers gave up 28 points is a disservice to the defense. The unit held on for as long as it could, forcing the Rebels into multiple three-and-outs. But it was unreasonable to think the Tigers could contain Ole Miss with the way their offense was performing.

And another point: Donovan Kaufman's interception and big return in the second quarter set the offense up with a short field so it could grab its second score of game.

Special teams: B

Nothing to write home about with the special teams, but nothing dramatically stuck out in a negative fashion, either. Kicker Alex McPherson didn't even get a chance to attempt a field goal, but punter Oscar Chapman was used seven times and averaged 49.1 yards per boot.

Auburn had a chance to recover a muffed punt, which would've placed the offense in favorable position, but couldn't land on top of the ball.

Coaching: D

Freeze has spoken throughout the year about the state of his roster, saying the team doesn't stack up against its SEC counterparts when it comes to personnel. That may be true, but the performance against Ole Miss went beyond that. Auburn has enough talent to look better than inept on offense.

Overall: C

It shouldn't be glossed over that the defense contained an offense like the Rebels' for as long as it did, and that's why the grade isn't any lower. If Auburn can't move the ball versus LSU and Ole Miss, though, the Tigers are in trouble the rest of the way.

Richard Silva is the Auburn athletics beat writer for the Montgomery Advertiser. He can be reached via email at rsilva@gannett.com or on Twitter @rich_silva18.

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Tigers of the Game: Hunter breaks out, Harris lives in backfield

Taylor Jones
~2 minutes

Auburn played another tough game on Saturday, falling to No. 12 Ole Miss, 28-21. The game was tied at halftime, but the Rebels scored twice to pull away late.

The Rebels outgained Auburn, 185-135 in the second half, and held on to the football for 16:54 of the second half to secure the win. The Tigers scored a late touchdown within the games’ final minute, but could not catch up to Ole Miss’ lead.

Despite the loss, there were several individual performances that are worth mentioning.

Following the game, Auburn Wire writers as well as Auburn fans revealed their picks for “Tiger of the Game” after the tough loss, here are the results.


The Montgomery Advertiser

It took Hunter six games to find his stride, but he finally found it on Saturday. He rushed for 91 yards and reeled in 54 receiving yards, making him the offenses most valuable player.


Austin Perryman/Auburn Athletics

Hunter was the offensive MVP, and Harris matched his energy on the defensive side of the ball. Harris was second in tackles with seven total. Among his seven tackles, he had two for loss and 1.5 of those were sacks.



Simpson was another valuable member of the Auburn defense by recording two tackles with 0.5 tackles for loss.


Michael Chang/Getty Images

Auburn fans have spoken and have selected Jarquez Hunter as the Tiger of the Game for his efforts in Auburn’s game against Ole Miss. He won 54.3% of the vote, beating out players such as Marcus Harris, Zion Puckett, and Larry Nixon III. To have a say in next week’s Tiger of the Game winner, visit Auburn Wire on X (Twitter) following the game to vote.

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Premiers at 7:00 AM

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This is awesome!

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We got screwed on this call for sure................

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The Hugh Freeze honeymoon at Auburn is over

Updated: Oct. 22, 2023, 12:07 a.m.|Published: Oct. 21, 2023, 11:02 p.m.

6–7 minutes

Before the stadium had begun to empty, with the result of the game still in the air, Auburn lined up quarterback Holden Geriner for his first meaningful snap of any kind this season and tucked him behind tight end Brandon Frazier. There were just over five minutes remaining in the third quarter, and the score still tied at 14. The plan was a double pass, with the ball tossed backward to Geriner and he would find an open receiver deep downfield.

Except he only had one blocker, who was shoved out of the way immediately and Geriner was sacked on the trick play.

It set up third-and-19 still on the Ole Miss half of the field. Auburn ran up the middle with Jarquez Hunter and gained four yards. Punter Oscar Chapman ran on the field.

And it was in this moment that all the optimism that has characterized Auburn’s season thus far drowned into boos. The hope of Auburn fans had been exhausted. It appeared as a rock bottom.

It was the first time Auburn’s inept offense had been booed this season.

In that moment, the Hugh Freeze honeymoon ended. The opponent, his former employer, made it all that more fitting.

Auburn had chances to win what ended as a 28-21 loss to No. 13 Ole Miss. The defense played a heroic effort against a far superior Ole Miss offense — keeping Ole Miss without points for the entire second quarter and for every second until the very last one of the third quarter.

During that time, Auburn’s offense had eight drives. Five of them ended in three-and-outs. Six ended in punts. One drive was just a singular play where quarterback Robby Ashford threw an interception. And the remaining drive was a four-play, 24-yard touchdown drive set up by a 43-yard Donovan Kaufman interception return.

After the ice had been thawed on the boos for the first time, they continued for every short gain — every inability to move the ball — for the rest of the game.

And for as loud as the boos were raining down on them — loud enough to be clearly heard in an Auburn press box known for blocking out noise — players said they didn’t notice the anger.

“I didn’t realize that,” tight end Rivaldo Fairweather said of the boos. “We’ve just got to go out there, execute and be great as an offense. And we will. We’re going to go back to the drawing table like I said and come back better.”

As officials reviewed and upheld a Thorne interception in the endzone, thousands of fans didn’t bother to wait for the call. They turned out of their seats and walked to the exit. Auburn’s student section is reliable to remain in their bleachers to the very end of the game, win or lose. But with two minutes to go, the result certainly in hand, rows and rows of silver bleachers were empty as the students made their way back toward the bars.

There were no boos when the game ended. At that point, the stadium was largely empty. Any boos would have been drowned out by the cheering Ole Miss fans in the northeast corner, anyway.

Yet when the game ended and Hugh Freeze made his way over to his press conference, his remarks on this team were much of the same as what he’s said after each of Auburn’s growing number of bad offensive performances.

He took the blame on himself again. He said he thought both quarterbacks had a good package again. He questioned his game plan again. He said the margin between Auburn winning and losing is so small again.

Asked why the mistakes repeating mistakes, Freeze’s answer was short, but indicative of the issues.

“I can’t answer the exact why,” Freeze said. “A combination.”

Before tonight, optimism was abound for a new coach with SEC experience — despite a checkered history. There was hope for the immediate recruiting success in the 2024 class — wins that remain on the register. There was hope because Freeze had won in the SEC before.

Hope isn’t eternal.

On this night, instead of granting Freeze with the patience that had been present, the fans met him with boos.

Boos are hard to come back from. Public opinion is fickle. It can turn sour in a moment and it isn’t easy to turn back.

That mood is bad right now. There is frustration from the fan base. Auburn’s offense is on pace to be historically bad.

Auburn has barely averaged more than 100 passing yards against SEC opponents. It’s the worst rate for Auburn this century.

And for all Hugh Freeze has talked about the talent gap Auburn has and the recruiting that still lies in the future, these repetitive failures of offense come down to coaching. Auburn made the same mistakes of alignment, protection, route running and simply poor quarterback play after a bye week where it planned to fix it.

The talent gap doesn’t cause Auburn to have 12 men in the huddle for a third down in the fourth quarter. Auburn was penalized twice for illegal substitutions. That’s coaching. And the fans noticed it.

Auburn’s passing offense was already ranked among the 10 worst in the nation before another bad day Saturday. Auburn had 122 total passing yards but 47 of them came on a dump-off pass to running back Jarquez Hunter later in the fourth quarter.

The fans made their voice heard, and it poses the question of what to do next with offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery.

These are the types of games a coach gets fired for. Montgomery’s contract, which has a total value of $3.45 million, has a 100% buyout.

Yet he is in a position that will be hard to recover. He works from the coaches’ box, nestled in the midst of all the boos.

Many of them were directed at him, too.

Matt Cohen covers Auburn sports for AL.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @Matt_Cohen_ or email him at mcohen@al.com

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1 hour ago, aubiefifty said:

With 40 minutes left before kickoff on Saturday, Freeze wasn’t in the locker room doing last-minute preparations, hyping his team up during warmups or scouting the Rebels as they warmed up.

Instead, Freeze stood at the midfield Auburn logo along with a congregation of about 20 high school and junior college prospects. He’d throw his arm behind a neck of one while shaking hands with another.

While Freeze understands he was hired to win football games, he also understands he was hired to repair a program that hadn’t seen a true effort in recruiting in many years.

We do not need to forget this. The man is working harder at recruiting than our past two coaches combined. 

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Interesting comments on crime dawg early on the podcast................

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