AUBURN, Ala. • Ole Miss found a way to get in some punches against the Auburn defensive front, and the Rebels found themselves with a chance to win on the game’s final play.
The No. 11-ranked Tigers, though, contained freshman quarterback John Rhys Plumlee on fourth-and-3 from the Auburn 35 to secure a 20-14 win before a sellout crowd of 87,451 at Jordan-Hare Stadium Saturday night.
The Rebels’ offense struggled much of the game, but the complexion changed when freshman running back Jarod “Snoop” Conner scored on a 1-yard touchdown run, and Ole Miss was six points back with 5 minutes, 45 seconds to play.
Plumlee was 4-for-4 passing on the drive, the big play a 25-yard gain to Conner with a late hit penalty tacked on.
Auburn, though, made the comeback tough by running 4:31 off the clock on its next drive and forcing Ole Miss coach Matt Luke to use all three timeouts. The Tigers converted a third-and-8 and a third-and-10 with the same play, an inside screen pass to a wide receiver.
The Rebels were not expecting that play the second time.
“They caught us off guard. We just rallied to the ball, tackled and tried our best to get off the field,” Ole Miss linebacker Jacquez Jones said.
The Rebels did get off the field when Auburn kicker Anders Carlson missed from 49 yards with 1:14 left.
“It’s a disappointing loss,” said Luke, whose team dropped its third-straight, its second-straight by a touchdown. “Our kids fought their guts out. I’m proud of our defense and how they bowed their necks in the red zone and gave us a chance to win the football game.”
Auburn ran 90 plays to 69 for Ole Miss and outgained the Rebels 507-266.
A big special teams play helped Ole Miss (3-6, 2-4 SEC) draw to within three points at halftime as a 55-yard punt return by Elijah Moore put the ball at the Auburn 23 with 1:06 left.
Plumlee rushed for 9 around the left end, Conner went for 10 up the middle, and Plumlee scored from 4 yards out around the right end to make it 10-7.
The score didn’t resemble the statistical domination as Auburn outgained Ole Miss 315-129 in the first two quarters.
However, Auburn converted only one of its first four third downs. Ole Miss was getting off the field defensively. The problem was the Rebels were getting off the field offensively too, whether the issues were Plumlee or Matt Corral missing in the passing game or a lost yardage when Corral and Moore poorly executed a handoff on an end around.
In a scoreless game past the mid-way point of the second quarter, Ole Miss cornerback Keidron Smith was unable to complete an interception when the ball hit him in his gut at the Auburn 5.
Auburn quarterback Bo Nix completed a 15-yard pass to running back D.J. Williams on the next play, and Auburn (7-2, 4-2 SEC) was inside the 10.
The Rebels stiffened, and Carlson, after missing from 42 and 49, was good from 20, and Auburn led 3-0 with 6:03 left in the first half.
The Rebels couldn’t move the sticks, and on second-and-9 from the Auburn 21 running back Harold Joiner was so wide open in front of the Tigers’ bench that the nearest Ole Miss player seemed like he was in the eastern time zone.
Joiner ran to the 1, and Auburn scored on the next play. The kick made it 10-0.
Nix led Auburn to 10 points on its first two possessions of the third quarter.
“This shows you how close this team is to being really, really good,” Plumlee said. “We had a lot of missed opportunities on offense, and we were right there at the end with one of the best teams in the country.”