AUBURN, Ala. (EETV) – Auburn welcomed Ole Miss to Jordan-Hare Stadium this week for an SEC West contest, with the Tigers hoping to pull off the upset. Despite the game being close for most of the way, Auburn couldn’t overcome the Rebels and lost 28-21.
Auburn got the ball to start the game, and it was Robby Ashford who began the game at quarterback for the Tigers. Auburn and Ashford utilized zone read concepts and the quick game early, trying to get settled in.
Unfortunately, the Tigers were stopped short after an Ashford scramble on 3rd and 12, and were stopped again when Ashford attempted a quarterback keeper on 4th and 1. The resulting turnover on downs handed Ole Miss the ball on the Auburn 48-yard line.
Ole Miss struggled to get their drive going, committing penalties on back-to-back plays. However, the Rebels were bailed out by a defensive pass interference call on Auburn that set the Rebels up with a new set of downs at the Auburn 40-yard line.
From there, Ole Miss easily moved the ball down the field courtesy of Jaxson Dart’s arm and legs, as well as rushes from running backs Quinshon Judkins and Ulysses Bentley Jr. The drive was capped off by an 11-yard touchdown pass from Dart to senior wide receiver Zakhari Franklin, putting Ole Miss up by seven with just under five minutes left in the first quarter.
The final minutes of the first quarter were taken up by explosive plays from both offenses. Auburn drove to midfield on consistent solid runs from Jarquez Hunter. Then, Hunter broke one off for a 53-yard touchdown, his longest of the season, to tie the game at 7 after the PAT from Alex McPherson. The score marked the 136th consecutive game the Tigers have scored in, the second-longest streak in Auburn history.
Not to be outdone, Ole Miss drove 75 yards down the field in just six plays and two and a half minutes of game clock. The big hitters on the drive for the Rebels were a 35-yard catch by tight end Caden Prieskorn and the scoring play itself, a 29-yard rush from quarterback Jaxson Dart that put the Rebels back up 14-7.
Auburn would respond with a three-and-out, punting the ball back to Ole Miss. However, the Rebels would give the ball right back, as Dart threw an interception to safety Donovan Kaufman, Kaufman’s first pick of the season. The interception was returned 43 yards all the way back to the Auburn 24-yard line.
On the ensuing drive, Auburn used four successive run plays to punch the ball into the end zone. Jarquez Hunter rushed for six and two yards respectively, then Robby Ashford got the ball inside the one-yard line with a 16-yard carry. On the next play, Jarquez Hunter took the direct snap and ran the ball into the end zone, tying the game at 14 with 11:44 left in the second quarter.
From then, it was a long dry spell for both offenses. The game remained deadlocked at 14 until the last play of the third quarter, a one-yard touchdown rush by Ole Miss quarterback Jaxson Dart. Ole Miss also scored on their first drive of the fourth quarter via a four-yard rushing touchdown by Quinshon Judkins, putting the Rebels up 28-14.
Auburn would try to come back, as Payton Thorne found Rivaldo Fairweather for an eight-yard touchdown with just under a minute left to shrink the Rebels’ lead to seven. Unfortunately, Auburn was unable to recover the onside kick, and Ole Miss was able to kneel out the clock to end the game.
The Auburn passing attack was anemic in this one, as the Tigers only amassed 122 yards through the air: 100 for Thorne and 22 for Ashford. After the game, Coach Hugh Freeze was asked about his decision to continue with the two-quarterback system
“Yeah, I don’t think that has anything to do with the outcome of the game,” said Freeze. “You know, they both had a really good package, and they both worked at times and but, I mean, it’d be nice to have one for sure.”
Due to the uncertainty at quarterback for the Tigers, they were often forced to run the ball on third down, regardless of how many yards they needed to pick up. By the end of the game, that philosophy was beginning to draw boos from the home crowd. The play calling was another point of questioning directed at Coach Freeze after the game.
“We didn’t feel like we matched up real well on their edge rushers on third down and that showed kind of in the two minute drill that they were pretty good,” said Freeze. “And if we couldn’t show up or something, we didn’t feel real great about that. But we did feel good about running against the five man box.”
However, there were bright spots for the Tigers. Jarquez Hunter rushed for 101 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries, including a 53-yard touchdown. This was Hunter’s second game with two touchdowns on the ground in his career, and his 101 yards moved him into 29th on the Auburn all-time rushing yards list. Another bright spot for the Tigers was safety Zion Puckett, who secured his first-career interception on a fake field goal attempt by Ole Miss.
Overall, though, it was a disappointing night for Auburn. The team continues to suffer from an inability to pass the ball, and a defense that is on the field too often and gets worn down as a result. Auburn will look to bounce back next week as they welcome Mississippi State to Jordan-Hare Stadium in what should be a winnable game for the Tigers.