Will this Saturday be Bryan Harsin’s last stand? The Auburn Tigers travel to Oxford, Mississippi to take on the ninth-ranked Ole Miss Rebels in a game of teams going opposite directions. Auburn enters at 3-3 on the season and is 1-3 since starting the season 2-0. Ole Miss is currently 6-0 on the season and looks to be one of the premier teams in the SEC. There is speculation that if Auburn was to lose on Saturday that it could signal the end of the Bryan Harsin era at Auburn. There is another speculation though that the decision could wait until after the season. It is worth noting that Auburn has their off week after this Saturday’s game.
Bryan Harsin’s Last Stand?
Auburn-Ole Miss History
Auburn and Ole Miss have been playing each other on the gridiron since October 20th of 1928. In that first meeting, the Rebels defeated the Tigers 19-0. They have only played 46 times, with Auburn holding a 35-10 lead. The Tigers won last season’s match-up 31-20 to make it six in a row in the series. That October 30th victory made Auburn 6-2 on the season, and the Bryan Harsin era was off to a strong start. Auburn has now gone 3-8 since that win and lost five consecutive games to close the 2021 season.
The Ole Miss Offense
Slowing down Ole Miss when they have the ball will be a tall task. They have a dynamic rushing attack featuring multiple running backs and a skilled runner with quarterback Jaxson Dart. This team currently is ranked second in the SEC behind Alabama averaging 242 yards a game. TCU transfer Zach Evans was supposed to be one of the keys to that part of the Ole Miss offense. He has turned out to be that, but surprise Quinshon Judkins currently sits at second in the conference in rush yards. He has totaled 581 yards and eight touchdowns. Evans is sixth with 469 yards and has scored six times.
Dart has added 256 yards on the ground and is ranked sixth among SEC quarterbacks running the ball. After winning the quarterback battle with Luke Altmyer that went into the season, Dart has shown improvement each week. He has passed for 1,358 yards and eight touchdowns with a 64% completion percentage. His best performance this season was last week in a 52-28 win over Vanderbilt. Dart passed for 448 yards and three touchdowns but did throw two interceptions. He has five on the year and has shown to force the ball while looking for the big play. The go-to target has been Jonathan Mingo, who is coming off a great performance against Vanderbilt also. The senior snagged nine receptions for 247 yards and two touchdowns. That was the most yards by an Ole Miss receiver in a game.
Auburn Offense Identity Crisis
Harsin and staff talked all off-season about how they would focus more on the run game and star back Tank Bigsby. They have had moments in games where they have tried to establish the run, but over the last two weeks look more like an air raid offense. Freshman Robby Ashford has thrown 76 passes over the last two games against LSU and Georgia. He has completed 42% of those passes for three touchdowns. He has shown great improvement, but that is asking too much of the young quarterback. Auburn has also gotten away from using Ashford in designed runs versus what they were doing early in the season. That thought might be due to T.J. Finley and Zach Calzada being out due to injury. Behind the freshman sits another in Holden Geriner.
For Auburn to have a chance, they need to lean on the run game and attempt to shorten the game. The most important statistic could be the time of possession. That will be tough against a stout Ole Miss defense that is fourth in the SEC against the run. Teams are averaging just 117.8 on the ground against the Rebels. The Tigers will still need to try though with Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter. Perhaps return to some more designed runs for Ashford as well.
Auburn did a great job in the first half of last week’s loss against the Georgia Bulldogs. The Tigers held the defending champions to just 14 first-half points, with seven of those being the result of a failed fake punt. Both Colby Wooden and Derick Hall had a big impact up front, and the Auburn secondary did a good job against the Georgia tight ends. The offense just failed the defense, and eventually, they lost steam. The final statistics show they gave up 292 yards on the ground, but they brought the effort in the first half.
Overall, the Ole Miss defense ranks fifth in yards allowed (330.2) and third in points allowed (14.5). They have only gone up against one offense that could test them, and that was in their 22-19 victory over Kentucky. Ole Miss held the Wildcats to 328 yards and forced two turnovers and a safety on quarterback Will Levis. Leading the way is linebacker Troy Brown with 45 tackles and safety A.J. Finley with the same number. The leader in sacks is Khari Coleman with two and a half.
Will it be Bryan Harsin’s Last Stand?
Despite all the off-the-field talk about the job security of Bryan Harsin, the Auburn Tigers have continued to play hard and have not given up on the season. The production and results have not been there, but the effort has. Expect Auburn to come out early Saturday with that same effort, and the defense keep them in the game once again. The issue is the offense will continue to struggle if new answers aren’t found. Auburn plays well early but falls late. Ole Miss beats Auburn 28-10.