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Key Matchups: Auburn rushing vs. Ole Miss

USA TODAY Sports

Auburn always scores 20 points under Malzahn (left), while Freeze's Rebels haven't allowed more than 20 in 2014.In its win last week against South Carolina, Auburn looked just like Auburn from last season. The Tigers had season highs in rushing yards (395), yards per rush (8.4) and runs of 30 yards or more (3). At the same time, they had a season-low 15 passing attempts.

It was a return to the formula that helped the Tigers win the 2013 SEC championship. Entering Saturday’s game, Auburn had passed on 37 percent of its plays, 7 percentage points higher than in 2013.

Against South Carolina, Auburn passed on a season-low 24 percent of its plays, one week after passing on a season-high 49 percent in the loss to Mississippi State. To be fair, Auburn was trailing most of the second half against the Bulldogs and needed to pass.

Auburn Rushing Offense
Since Start of Last Season

This week, the Tigers travel to Ole Miss, which leads the nation in per-game scoring defense (10.5) and defensive efficiency (19.6), which measures the points a defense contributes to the team’s scoring margin and adjusts for the offenses faced.

It is a classic something-has-to-give matchup. Consider:

-Ole Miss is the only FBS team that has not allowed more than 20 points in a game this season, whereas Auburn has never been held to fewer than 20 under Gus Malzahn.

-Since Malzahn took over as head coach, Auburn is 15-0 when it runs for at least 250 yards and 3-3 when it does not. Ole Miss is winless (0-7) in three seasons under Hugh Freeze when its opponent rushes for more than 200 yards, including last week’s loss to LSU.

-Ole Miss has allowed three rushing touchdowns this season, tied for third fewest in the FBS. Auburn scored five rushing touchdowns last week against South Carolina.

Auburn outside offense

Under Malzahn, Auburn has been one of the best perimeter rushing teams in the nation. Since the start of last season, it has more rushing yards outside the tackles (4,122) than 90 FBS teams have total rushing yards. On such runs, the Tigers have averaged 7.8 yards per carry, second best among Power 5 schools behind Wisconsin (8.7).

Last week against South Carolina, Auburn had its best perimeter running game of the season, gaining a season-high 228 yards outside the tackles, including five touchdowns. The Tigers had more rushing yards outside the tackles on Ricardo Louis’ 75-yard touchdown than they had the previous game in their loss at Mississippi State.

Speaking of that loss, the 2014 Bulldogs were the fifth team to hold Auburn to less than 6 yards per carry outside the tackles under Malzahn. The Tigers are 2-3 in those games, with both wins coming by six points or fewer.

Ole Miss can stop it

Until last week, Ole Miss had been stout against the run. But crazy things happen under the lights in Tiger Stadium. The Rebels allowed 264 rushing yards to LSU, 19 more than they allowed in their previous four games combined. LSU had four runs of 15 yards or more; Ole Miss had allowed eight such runs entering the game, including four in its previous five games.

Despite last week, Ole Miss ranks fourth in the FBS in defensive efficiency on rushing plays. It has held opponents out of the end zone (allowed 3 TDs), forced turnovers (4 fumble recoveries) and limited teams on third down (31 percent conversion rate, sixth in the FBS).

Ole Miss has excelled on defense in the same area in which Auburn excels on offense. The Rebels have allowed 4.0 yards per rush outside the tackles, third fewest in the SEC. On such runs, the Rebels have allowed one touchdown and the second-lowest percentage (12 percent) to gain 10 yards or more in the SEC behind Alabama (9 percent).

In last season’s matchup, an eight-point Auburn win, the “Landshark” defense looked more like a fish out of water. Auburn had 175 rushing yards outside the tackles on 23 carries, including six runs of 10 yards or more. It is the most yards, yards per carry and 10-yard rushes that Ole Miss has allowed on such plays the last two seasons. If Ole Miss can improve in this area Saturday, it might be able to “set the edge” on the scoreboard as well.