The Sports Network
By Scott Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The only unbeaten team in the SEC continues its run through the conference, as the third-ranked Auburn Tigers take their act on the road this weekend against the Ole Miss Rebels.
Gene Chizik's Tigers were matched up with a top-10 foe last weekend in LSU and the last two unbeatens in the SEC went toe-to-toe, before Auburn exited the game with a 24-17 victory. With the big win, the Tigers catapulted all the way to the top spot in the BCS standings this week.
Houston Nutt's Rebels have struggled with consistency in 2010 and currently have a 3-4 overall record, with just one conference victory to their credit. Of course, it hasn't helped that Ole Miss is playing its third straight ranked opponent, after falling at Alabama (23-10) and Arkansas (38-24) in the last two outings.
Auburn leads this series by a count of 25-9. The Tigers are a perfect 13-0 against the Rebels when they come into the game ranked in the top-25.
It was once again the Cam Newton show last week, as Auburn's Heisman Trophy hopeful rushed for a career-high 217 yards and two touchdowns to lead his team to victory over LSU.
Newton is starting to distance himself from the Heisman field with each impressive outing. He currently ranks third in the nation in pass efficiency (172.08) and ninth in total offense (305.1 ypg). He is also sixth nationally in rushing (134.6 ypg) and leads the country in rushing TDs (14) and total TDs (27).
There is no question that Newton makes the whole thing work for Auburn, but he is not alone in getting the job done. The Tigers are averaging a gaudy 303.2 yards per game rushing the football this year, with tailbacks Michael Dyer (5.5 ypc, 67.9 ypg, five TDs) and Onterio McCalebb (8.3 ypc, 57.2 ypg, four TDs) adding to the arsenal in the backfield.
When Newton does settle into the pocket and pass the ball, he is usually looking the way of Darvin Adams (26 receptions, for 452 yards, two TDs) and Terrell Zachery (21 receptions, for 288 yards, one TD).
Ole Miss' Nutt has been impressed with Newton's meteoric rise.
"I think the biggest thing that Cam does is that he is such a weapon. He can be a true tailback at 6-6 and 250 pounds. He can throw a football and has good people around him that he can hand and throw it to. He is a triple threat all the way around because of handing off, running, and throwing. In my opinion, he has brought the offense back to life. He is a leader and has all the other intangibles. I would say the biggest adjustment he made after the second or third game was that he took off in the running game."
The Auburn defense hasn't been nearly as productive as the offense this season and has had trouble with consistency at times. The team is yielding 23.5 ppg this year and has been particularly susceptible to the pass (248.9 ypg). Out of the 24 TDs allowed by this unit in 2010, 14 have come via the pass.
Still, with 20 sacks and 15 takeaways this season, this unit knows how to make plays when it counts the most. Leading the charge in that area has been standout defensive tackle Nick Fairley. The 6-5, 300-pound junior has 39 tackles on the year and leads the team in both TFLs (17.0) and sacks (7.5), with one INT and one fumble recovery. Senior LB Jeff Bynes (team-high 53 tackles, 5.0 TFLs, one sack and three INTs) provides steady play in the middle, while senior safety Zac Etheridge (45 tackles, two INTs) does the same in the secondary.
The strength of the Rebels comes on the offensive side of the ball, where the team is averaging 31.4 ppg, on 410.3 yards of total offense. Ole Miss has had success both on the ground (211.1 ypg) and through the air (199.1 ypg) and the addition of Oregon transfer Jeremiah Masoli at quarterback has been a big part of that. Helping his cause is an offensive line that has yielded a mere seven sacks on the season (leads the SEC and ranked 17th nationally).
The athletic Masoli has thrown for 1,260 yards and 10 TDs this season, while ranking second on the team in rushing (5.3 ypc, 400 yards, three TDs). Tailback Brandon Bolden paces the squad in rushing with 559 yards and five TDs, averaging a healthy 5.8 yards per carry. Bolden is also Masoli's top target in the vertical game, hauling in a team-high 19 balls, for 187 yards and two TDs. Wideouts Melvin Harris (17 catches, 248 yards, three TDs) and Markeith Summers (16 catches, 359 yards, four TDs) are strong complements on the outside.
Coach Chizik knows it won't be easy to stop Masoli.
"He's extremely talented, extremely dangerous with both his arm and his ability to make things happen with his feet. A lot of his plays that you'll see he's extremely effective, it's the break in the pocket, getting out in space, and either at that point choosing to run the ball or hitting some of those big targets he has at receivers. He does a lot of those things extremely well. He's very talented. He just brings a whole other kind of dimension to their offense that makes it very challenging to stop."
Defensively, the Rebels have had their problems in giving up a hefty 32.0 ppg. The team has been decent against the run (125.0 ypg), but the rush defense will be taken to task by Auburn's ground game. The unit does have 19 sacks on the season, but has forced just nine turnovers in seven games.
Senior LB Jonathan Cornell leads the team in tackles (51), TFLs (9.5) and sacks (3.5). Fellow LBs Allen Walker (39 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, 2.0 sacks) and D.T. Shackelford (23 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, 3.0 sacks) have been disruptive as well. Junior safety Damien Jackson (49 tackles, three TFLs, one fumble recovery) highlights the play in the secondary.