OXFORD • “Auburn defensive line problems for $500, Alex.”
The answer: “Some, yes, but he must strike a balance.”
The question: “Will Ole Miss offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez have new wrinkles in his game plan this week?”
The safe approach for what Rodriguez describes as a generational-type defense could very well place the Rebels in jeopardy, but so could a lack of creativity.
“It’s as impressive a group as you’ll see not just anywhere in the country but maybe the last several years, and it’s not just their front,” Rodriguez said this week.
The enemy’s front
But it’s mostly the defensive front that has Auburn currently in the SEC’s top five in rushing defense, scoring defense and total defense.
The Auburn defense drew praise last Saturday for holding LSU – the nation’s No. 1 scoring offense – to about half its average in a 23-20 loss in Baton Rouge.
“You better have a thing or two in plan to try to have some success against them. If you run right at them or just do what you’ve been doing, they’ll have a plan for that,” Rodriguez said.
Auburn’s starting defensive front has appeared in a combined 157 games, led by seniors Marlon Davidson and Derrick Brown with 95 appearances.
Davidson has started every game in which he’s played, but his streak of 47-consecutive starts – which ranks second nationally to Louisiana Tech offensive lineman Ethan Reed – could end this week.
Davidson left the LSU game with a back injury, and his status is unclear.
He has nine tackles for loss, 5 ½ sacks, three pressures and two forced fumbles this season.
It’s Auburn’s ability to force turnovers which most concerns Rebels coach Matt Luke.
“These guys get turnovers. When you drop back they pressure the passer and create turnovers with their physicality,” he said.
Auburn has nine take-aways this season.
Ole Miss goes into the game averaging 232.5 rushing yards a game, second in the SEC and No. 18 nationally.
LSU rushed for 187 yards last week, a season-high for an Auburn opponent. The Tigers have held four teams to fewer than 100 rushing yards including then-No. 11 Oregon in the season opener.
The Rebels’ youth on offense is something that troubles Rodriguez in trying to decide how much newness to implement this week.
In addition, seven offensive starters have had to work their way back from injuries sustained in the Texas A&M game on Oct. 19.
“The last thing you want to do for our guys is have some indecision or some confusion up front and all of a sudden now we can’t execute,” he said. “I think we’ll try to do what we can do well. We’ve got to eliminate negative-yardage plays, and obviously we can’t have turnovers.”