Auburn trying to avoid Ole Miss upset
Now what, Auburn?
The third-ranked Tigers have taken over the coveted but
precarious top spot in the BCS standings going into Saturday’s game
at Mississippi. Occupants of college football’s penthouse, No. 1
either in the polls or the BCS, have stumbled three weeks
Auburn (8-0, 5-0 SEC) is hardly resigned to the fate of Alabama,
Ohio State and Oklahoma.
”If we do our job, we can cut that statistic out,” quarterback
Cam Newton said. ”Our coaches do an excellent job of preparing us
for our games, so we won’t have the coaches to blame. It’s going to
be up to us as players to be able to come in and know their
weakness and know what they’re good at and be able to attack them
in every single direction.”
The Tigers are trying to keep it about football, not national
title positioning or the considerable Heisman Trophy hoopla
swirling around Newton. The Rebels (3-4, 1-3), meanwhile, can play
the spoiler’s role possibly on both counts after dropping two
They are modest seven-point underdogs despite coming off
back-to-back road losses to No. 6 Alabama and No. 19 Arkansas to
start the SEC West’s version of murderer’s row. Ole Miss coach
Houston Nutt has thrived in this role during his career, upsetting
five teams ranked in the top 5 (in 14 tries) – all when Nutt’s team
was unranked. That includes a 50-48 triple-overtime win over No. 1
LSU in 2007.
The Rebels finally get to take on one of those Top 25 West teams
”They know who they are playing,” Nutt said. ”Their name is
going to be across ESPN and every station, so they know that. But
I’m more concerned about us. I’m more concerned about us
eliminating mistakes, taking care of the ball, everybody knowing
who to block. Let’s be better fundamental tacklers. Let’s play a
full 60-minute game and get our kicking game right.
”There’s more concentration on that,” Nutt said, ”because no
matter who you play in this league, you’d better be ready.”
The Tigers haven’t put any SEC team away before the fourth
quarter. They’ve eked out three-point wins in each of their first
two league road games, at Mississippi State and Kentucky.
Oklahoma debuted atop the BCS rankings, a week after Ohio
State’s cameo leading the Top 25. Before that, defending national
champion Alabama’s run ended with a loss at South Carolina.
With a No. 1 BCS ranking for the first time, it’s Auburn’s turn
to become the target. There’s no more hiding for a team that has
ridden Newton on a surprising surge up the rankings.
”Everybody reads it, everybody sees it and everybody hears
it,” Tigers coach Gene Chizik said. ”We fully expect to get
everybody’s best shot.”
Chizik’s players insist they’re not getting caught up in
”It doesn’t matter after Week 8 if you’re No. 1,” Newton said.
”There’s only one week it really matters, and that’s at the end of
the year. It’s kind of pointless for us even to be talking about
But as Chizik pointed out, there’s no escaping it.
If staying focused and levelheaded is Auburn’s biggest
challenge, stopping Newton has to be tops for the Rebels. They rank
last in the SEC in scoring defense and 101st nationally. Auburn
brings the league’s most potent offense and hottest quarterback,
who just torched LSU and the league’s top defense for 217 yards
rushing and already has more this season than any SEC quarterback
”He’s a triple threat all the way around because of handing
off, running, throwing,” Nutt said. ”To me, he has brought the
offense alive because you have that type of weapon back there and
leader and all the other intangibles.
”He’s just been awesome.”
The Rebels counter with their own dual-threat quarterback,
Jeremiah Masoli, and a dose of the option. He’s one of only four
quarterbacks nationally averaging at least 180 yards passing and 50
”He’s a guy that’s fun to watch,” Newton said. ”Just what he
can do, it’s a scare for defenders and for me just looking out on
Neither defense will rest easy when the opposing quarterback
can’t find an open receiver.
”They can give you a lot of problems just by their ability to
make things happen when maybe something isn’t necessarily there,”
Chizik said. ”They both do that.”