AUBURN, Ala. The return for Jaylon Jones technically began with the rest of his teammates on Aug. 31.

But Jones, a junior Ole Miss cornerback, didn’t really feel like he was back until five weeks later. In fact, he’s still coming back.

Jones, from Allen, Texas, was playing in his home state last season when he tore an anterior cruciate knee ligament (ACL) in the Rebels’ opening-day win over Texas Tech in Houston.

He was on his way to a monster finish already with a career-high seven tackles and a 94-yard kick return touchdown at the time of his injury.

A year later he was back on the field when the Rebels opened at Memphis but could tell there was still rehab work to be done.

“There was some stiffness in the knee. I knew it would take (more) time,” Jones said.

Jones has gotten better, and he and his defensive teammates will need to match an Auburn defense that is giving up just 17.9 points a game.

Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. for an ESPN broadcast.

The Rebels have shown great improvement against the run this season, and that’s the bread-and-butter for an Auburn offense that, like Ole Miss, starts a true freshman quarterback.

The Tigers are third in the SEC – right behind Ole Miss – and No. 20 nationally in rushing offense at 225.9 yards a game.

“They have excellent perimeter speed. Gus and those guys do a great job of getting different guys running on the edge,” Ole Miss defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre said.

A big key for the Rebels will be the outside linebackers’ ability to set the edge and turn Auburn rushers inside, MacIntyre said.

Auburn running back JaTarvious Whitlow is working back into shape after a knee injury. He rushed for 170 yards on 18 carries at Ole Miss last year when Jones wasn’t around to help.

“It was tough just watching it, being away from the game. What’s different this season is understand that sometime, the losses, you learn from it. Watch the film, see what you can do better. That’s the difference with this team and this coaching staff,” Jones said.

Jones said the Vanderbilt game was when he felt that his health had reached another level.

He matched his career-high with seven tackles then and believe his pass coverage has improved as well.

Coverage has been a problem in an Ole Miss secondary. The Rebels are No. 11 in the SEC, No. 87 nationally, in pass defense efficiency, but they’re last in the league and No. 121 in passing yards allowed at 284.4 per game.

“I’d say the Vanderbilt game, just the tackles, some of the covering I did, the scheme coach Mac put me in to make those plays. They still believe in me,” Jones said.

parrish.alford@journalinc.com

Twitter: @parrishalford

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