The timing couldn’t be more perfect for Auburn as it gets ready to face No. 24 Ole Miss on Saturday. The Tigers are coming off an open week that was used to rest up and get healthy, while the Rebels were physically beaten up by Alabama, the No. 1 team in the country.
Before Saturday, Ole Miss was being tabbed as one of the darlings of the SEC, a surprise team that had a chance to compete with the elites. But that changed when the Rebels visited Alabama and laid a goose egg against the Crimson Tide. Now they must regroup in a hurry or their season could head downhill in a hurry.
“It’s just disappointing, not what I anticipated happening, obviously,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said after the loss to Alabama. “But it did, so we have to go back and regroup. We have a difficult stretch of games, and we can’t let this one get us next week. We have to go back, put it in the trash can tomorrow after we watch it and move on.”
As Ole Miss licks its wounds, Auburn is salivating at the chance to play the Rebels on Saturday. It’s potentially the biggest game of the season for the Tigers and their best chance to knock off a top-25 opponent. A win would put Auburn on track for a bowl game appearance, a huge step for a team that finished 3-9 a year ago.
The week off allowed for Auburn to heal its own wounds following a physical defeat at the hands of LSU, but it also gave the coaches and players extra time to study and prepare for Ole Miss.
“It helps,” offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. “We needed it physically, too. We needed it really badly physically. We could have used it earlier, but it helps.
“You get more repetition on their formations, adjustments, the blocking schemes, routes, recognition. It doesn't necessarily mean that we'll be better prepared, but we'll have some things we've spent more time on.”
When Gus Malzahn was at Auburn the first time as offensive coordinator, the open week almost always fell before the Alabama game. In 2009, Auburn used the extra time and nearly upset the No. 2 ranked Tide. The next year, the Tigers did knock off their cross-state rival en route to a BCS national championship.
There won’t be quite as much on the line this time, but the Auburn head coach will have his team prepared just the same.
“The biggest thing we're preaching to them, starting with Coach Malzahn, is the urgency,” Lashlee said. “We have to have a great sense of urgency every day this week in practice. Every time in meetings: this is a big football game. We have to practice and prepare like it's a big football game.”