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Position Grades: Auburn 35, Ole Miss 28

Despite the fact that Auburn was dysfunctional at times in the win against Ole Miss, and despite the fact that certain mistakes from certain areas can really amplify and make a team look worse than they are, the Tigers made great strides in a few areas on Saturday. It’s the kind of improvement that will pay dividends in the future and could turn into a big win as soon as this Saturday.

QUARTERBACKS – B+ for Boseph

Bo Nix was put in a great situation Saturday and made the most of it. His 23/30 line is impressive — completing over 75% of your passes is a VERY good thing when you’ve set the bar closer to 50%. Look, Ole Miss obviously isn’t an elite defense, but Bo Nix didn’t fumble the game away, didn’t throw an interception, and performed well under pressure. His chemistry with Seth was obviously never really gone. In addition, he completed 7 passes to Anthony Schwartz and another 5 to Eli Stove, WITH a key completion to a tight end for a first down! Hopefully Nix can build on that momentum coming home Saturday in front of a friendly crowd.

RUNNING BACKS – A for AUsome

Auburn posted 224 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns on 44 carries yesterday. It was essentially the game plan that we were all clamoring for over the past week, and Gus Malzahn/Chad Morris let the talent eat. Tank Bigsby was superb, leading the way with 129 yards on 24 carries and scoring a pair of touchdowns, including one that had people mentioning Cadillac Williams’ name as a comparison on Twitter.

He even returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, but it got called back for an extremely soft hold away from the play. Ole Miss fans don’t want to mention that in their analysis of the officiating. Aside from Tank, Shaun Shivers went for 60 yards and a score on 11 carries, and Auburn’s one-two combo looked really solid all game long.

WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS – A for all of the YAC yards

This was the game we’ve been looking for out of the Auburn wide receivers. Sure, the team only tallied a pedestrian 238 receiving yards and one touchdown. But of those 238 yards, 157 of the them (66%) were gained after the catch. It was more than just Seth and Schwartz, too, with eight of the 23 balls being caught by someone other than the big two. I’m not ready to say this passing game has turned a corner, but if we do see an uptick the rest of the year, this will be the game we look back on.

Also, major props for our favorite big boi J.J. Pegues mauling a defender in run block.

OFFENSIVE LINE – B+ for blocking good plus our run game is actually pretty solid

This offensive line has done a great job of getting better as the season has gone on. I’m really proud to see a group show that they can improve and find something more within themselves than what I saw in 2018/2019 out of the offensive line. They established a new line of scrimmage against Ole Miss and allowed not just Tank Bigsby to run wild, but they opened up lanes for the less shifty Shaun Shivers. Pass protection break downs are still there and are going to be a problem as we go into LSU and beyond, but overall it’s hard not to be pleased with the direction of this group. Here’s hoping Brandon Council heals up well and that Keiondre Jones is ready. We’re going to need him.

DEFENSIVE LINE – B for blowing things up for a change!

It would be nice to see this group get home and finish on the quarterback more regularly. I’m afraid that if we have a legitimate pass rusher on this roster, then we won’t see him until Romelo Height is actually healthy. That being said, this group did enough to keep the linebackers in open field and disrupt the pocket to avoid any real deep passing threat. That counts for something and is going to matter going into this weekend against LSU. They just need to get healthy and give maximum effort every play. Without both this group is going to struggle the rest of the way.

LINEBACKERS – C-minus for “I would like to see minus yardage more often for opposing offenses”

Ole Miss ran for 283 yards yesterday, averaging about 5.5 yards per carry. Much of that is the fact that Rebel running backs were able to get through the hole without much resistance, but our linebackers need to be there plugging those gaps. Owen Pappoe had a big game stat wise, but he was making tackles downfield (14 stops on the day), while Zakoby McClain added 8 tackles. Neither had a tackle for loss, and the fact that our starting safeties combined for 23 tackles is frustrating. It means that the backers weren’t in position to make those plays. True, K.J. Britt’s absence is tough on the other two, because we just have no depth right now, but Ole Miss was running free from the start. We’ll see what happens when the opposing offense doesn’t have a mobile quarterback.

DEFENSIVE BACKS – A for a whopping 2.0 yards per target for the SEC’s leading receiver

You read that right. Elijah Moore was averaging 13.8 yards per catch and 10.5 receptions per game headed into Saturday’s game, but the Auburn secondary absolutely pissed all over the junior wideout’s efforts. And it’s not like Matt Corral and the Rebel passing game found room elsewhere. Corral ended the day with just 154 yards, one score, and two interceptions*, just under half of his weekly yards average. It was a team effort, as well, as Moore duty shuffled around the secondary.

*Jordyn Peters’s interception might be tied with Justin Herbert for the worst throw to the endzone at the end of a game. And I’m not totally sure it counts, since it wasn’t a legal pass.

SPECIAL TEAMS – D for don’t let the game fall into the replay official’s hands anymore PLEASE

Special teams mistakes nearly lost this game:

  1. However phantom the hold might have been, Tank Bigsby’s kickoff return touchdown to open the second half was taken off the board.
  2. Ladarius Tennison muffed a kickoff that resulted in poor field position.
  3. A bad punt snap that resulted in immediate scoring position for Ole Miss
  4. A bad FG snap that resulted in Auburn trailing by 1 and needing a score to not lose, rather than avoid overtime.
  5. That play

On the bright side, kickoff (3 TBs, one fair catch, and two returns of less than 25 yards) and punt coverage (1 for -9 due to a muff) were good. Eli Stove took over returning punts, and the 3 Ole Miss punts resulted in a solid return, a fair catch in good field position, and a touchback. That’s a major improvement over last week. Still, those positives can merely make this a passing grade due to the other issues. Make those mistakes again, and it’s unlikely Auburn comes out ahead next time.

COACHING – A for actually a great job, keep it up

Auburn has more talent on the field than Ole Miss. However, Auburn out-schemed Ole Miss big-time. Auburn’s defensive strategy worked flawlessly. Steele has always leaned into a “bend don’t break” mentality. This limited explosive plays from the explosive Ole Miss offense.

Auburn also leaned into it’s biggest strength on offense: Tank Bigsby. The true freshman was given every opportunity to carry the team. Props to the coaches for recognizing that and trusting a true freshman. That isn’t something that happens a lot with this coaching staff, so proper credit must be given when it is due.

FANS – N/A

Dang Oxford Rebel fans are going to have to crowdsource their pennies for Lane Kiffin’s 2.5 million coins he needs to pay his fine.

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