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Game Scout: Ole Miss at Auburn

The SportsXchange

KICKOFF: Saturday, 7 p.m. ET

GAMEDATE: 10/5/13

SITE: Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, Ala.

TV: ESPNU

SERIES: Auburn leads the series with Ole Miss 27-10, including a 13-2 advantage in games played at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Ole Miss won last year's meeting, 41-20, in Oxford, snapping a three-game losing streak in the series and a 16-game SEC skid. Ole Miss' last win in Auburn came in 2003.

RANKINGS: Ole Miss No. 24; Auburn unranked

KEYS TO THE GAME

Ole Miss is trying to move on in more ways than one this week.

The No. 24 Rebels will hit the road for the fourth time already this season when they travel to take on SEC West foe Auburn on Saturday. Ole Miss is trying to flush both its ugliest offensive showing so far and the actions of a former assistant out of its system.

Ole Miss (3-1, 1-1 SEC) sputtered from the opening play last week against No. 1 Alabama, producing season worsts in total yards (205) and rushing yards (46) on the way to its first shutout under second-year coach Hugh Freeze. It was the first time the Rebels failed to produce any points since a 34-0 loss at Arkansas when Houston Nutt was leading the Razorbacks in 1998.

"They had a good plan against us," said quarterback Bo Wallace, who also noted that the Crimson Tide widened their defensive front to combat the Rebels' perimeter running game, the first time Ole Miss had seen that look since last year's Georgia game. "They played their ends wide, and it was hard for (running back) Jeff (Scott) to get outside of it."

There's some suspicion that a move by the Alabama coaching staff may have given the Tide some extra defensive help.

Tyler Siskey, Alabama's associate director of player personnel who served in a recruiting position on Freeze's staff last year, was spotted by ESPN's cameras panning the field from the coaches' box with a pair of binoculars. Rules allow staff members to be in the box during the game, but only in a non-coaching capacity.

Siskey's actions quickly came to the forefront on social media as Siskey's familiarity with the opponent had fans convinced he was relaying play calls to the Alabama sideline based on the Rebels' personnel and formations.

Freeze shrugged it off during his weekly press conference, instead choosing to heap praise on the Crimson Tide for their preparation of Ole Miss' up-tempo offense. Freeze said the school hasn't contacted the SEC about the situation.

"Tyler Siskey's a good man," Freeze said. "I hate that it's been quite the drama. Did I feel like they had an excellent plan for whatever reason? I did. But I'm sure (Alabama coach) Nick (Saban) prepares just like any of us would, and I'm ready to move on to Auburn."

So is everybody else.

Auburn enters Saturday's contest sporting an identical 3-1 overall record and a 1-1 mark in conference play. The Tigers lost their last time out -- a 35-21 setback at No. 10 LSU -- but have had a week off to get ready for Ole Miss.

The Tigers, who are under the direction of first-year coach Gus Malzahn after going winless in SEC play a season ago, will be playing their fourth home game of the season. Auburn won each of their first three, outscoring Washington State, Arkansas State and Mississippi State 93-53.

Going to play a confident Auburn team at its place, wide receiver Vince Sanders knows there can't be any lingering effects from last week's loss in Tuscaloosa.

"They're 3-1 just like us, so we're kind of in the same situation," Sanders said. "We know we can't sit around and think about the Alabama loss because we've got a very important game coming up Saturday."

The Rebels will see one of the more athletic offenses they've dealt with this season from Auburn's no-huddle attack. The Tigers, who are averaging nearly 29 points a game, feature dual-threat JUCO transfer Nick Marshall at quarterback and a pair of capable backs in juniors Tre Mason and Cameron Artis-Payne.

Marshall, Mason, Artis-Payne and speedster Corey Grant have combined to give the Tigers the SEC's third-best ground game (232 yards per game). Marshall also has thrown for 202 yards per game and has a 339-yard effort against Mississippi State to his credit.

Freeze said his defense will have to be ready for anything.

"They're extremely athletic at quarterback, at running back, at receiver and with their DBs. (Their) O-line and D-line are physical like an SEC team should be. We'll face an offense that is very balanced in rushing and passing. They give you a lot of looks, a lot of motions, a lot of smoke and mirrors and are very efficient at what they do."

Meanwhile, the Rebels' offense will try to get back on track against an Auburn defense that's giving up 439 yards each time out, which ranks next to last in the league.

"We've just got to go to work," Wallace said. "Get in here, shake some things up and go back to work."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Rebels

--LB Denzel Nkemdiche saw his first action last week after tearing his meniscus in the season opener at Vanderbilt on Aug. 29. Nkemdiche, the Rebels' leading tackler a season ago with 82 stops, finished with four tackles (two solo, two assists) and a forced fumble against Alabama.

--DE Robert Nkemdiche has started every game after signing as the nation's consensus No. 1 recruit in February. The 6-foot-5, 294-pound Nkemdiche, the younger brother of Denzel, has tallied 10 tackles and four tackles for loss this season. He moved around the line against Alabama, getting some reps at defensive tackle, but coach Hugh Freeze said that's not a permanent move. Freeze also said Nkemdiche may have suffered a broken finger against the Crimson Tide, but the star freshman won't miss any time because of it.

--QB Bo Wallace may not have had his best game against Alabama, but the junior signal caller didn't make any backbreaking mistakes either, which is a welcome sight for Rebel coaches and fans. A year after throwing nearly as many interceptions (17) as touchdowns (22), Wallace hasn't thrown a pick through the first four games. Wallace has thrown for 807 yards and four scores while completing 61.9 percent of his passes.

--TE Evan Ingram was an afterthought in Ole Miss' 2013 signing class, but the freshman has proven to be a big-time threat in the passing game. Engram is the team's third-leading receiver with 13 catches for 189 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His 14.5 yards per reception lead the team (minimum 10 receptions).

Tigers

QB Nick Marshall remains a work in progress. Malzahn's offense has reached 90 plays in a game thrice before, but Marshall has been playing it safe in the first half and his statistics reflect it. Expect the Tigers to put him in confidence-building -- and tempo-setting -- situations out of the gate.

TB Tre Mason makes the offense tick and he sets the field as a top-10 kickoff return man averaging 31.7 yards per return. If he provides big plays as a running back or return specialist, Auburn likes its chances.
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