October 6, 2013 1:50:52 AM
AUBURN, Ala. -- Statistics.
They are a big part of any football game. Statistics are kept in just about every category imaginable in college football today. A quick look will normally give you a good idea of who controlled a football game and won it.
That wasn't the case Saturday night as the Ole Miss Rebels won just about every statistical category in their Southeastern Conference Western Division battle against Auburn, but the Tigers won the vital statistic of yards rushing, which helped them win the only statistic that mattered --the final score -- 30-22 before a near-capacity crowd of 86,504 at Jordan-Hare Stadium/Pat Dye Field.
Ole Miss (3-2, 1-2 SEC) couldn't overcome a 78-yard interception return for a touchdown by junior defensive back Robenson Therezie and some solid play by junior quarterback Nick Marshall, who led his team to a key divisional win.
The interception return came with Auburn leading 6-3 and 1 minute, 39 seconds left in the opening quarter. Ole Miss in the midst of a 10-play drive that could have helped it tie the game or take the lead with a touchdown. Instead, Therezie took the errant throw from junior quarterback Bo Wallace and increased Auburn's lead to 13-3.
When asked about the interception return and how it affected momentum and his teamʼs rhythm offensively, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said, "It was pretty brutal. It felt like what we were doing then was mixing it up with our run game. Then it gets to a point where you donʼt feel comfortable doing all of that. They (Auburn) didnʼt do anything we hadnʼt prepared for on defense. They just played a little more man than we had seen."
Said Wallace, "It was a miscommunication. I thought he was going to come in, he sat, and that is just how it went. It was a bad throw."
Ole Miss moved the ball well at times between the 30s, but was plagued by a series of self-inflicted mistakes. Auburn received solid play from its defensive front, which featured three freshmen. But the Rebels had six dropped passes, allowed six sacks of Wallace, 17 quarterback hurries, had blown assignments on both the offensive and defensive front, miscommunication on routes, and twice failed to down a punt inside the 5-yard line.
"It is a disappointing loss," Freeze said. "We had our chances. We had three opportunities to score ... three drives where we had the opportunity to take the lead that we didnʼt. We didnʼt protect the quarterback. They werenʼt blitzing. We just lost a lot of one on ones. There were several times where we just got beat off the ball."
Ole Miss also had trouble with Auburn's read option. Marshall rushed for 140 of Auburnʼs 282 yards and scored two touchdowns to help Auburn take a 27-9 lead with 3:10 left in the third quarter.
"Marshall had a phenomenal first half," Freeze said. "He is an athletic guy and we struggled to contain him at times. I thought we did a better job in the second half on him."
After Marshall staked Auburn to a 27-9 lead with a 5-yard run late in the third quarter, Ole Miss rallied thanks to two Wallace touchdown passes to Donte Moncrief to cut the deficit to 27-22 with 8:29 remaining.
Ole Miss junior safety Cody Prewitt forced a fumble on the first play from scrimmage after the kickoff to give the Rebels the ball at their 40. Three plays later, though, Wallace threw a second interception to end the threat.
Ole Miss had two other opportunities to take the lead, but neither with any field position. Auburn won the field position battle and eventually kicked a 23-yard field goal with 3:02 left to account for the final margin.
The game was the fourth of five road games for Ole Miss to open the season. Freeze admitted the games have taken a toll on his players, but he is confident they will be able to regroup.
"We get to go home now," Freeze said. "The games wonʼt be any easier, but at least they will be played in front of our people."
Ole Miss will play host to six-straight home games, the first of which will be Saturday against reigning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M.