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Depleted Ole Miss Defense Falters in Second Half in Loss to Auburn

An undermanned Ole Miss defense did everything it could to keep the Rebels within striking distance against Auburn on Saturday, but eventually the lack of depth and the other various shortcomings the unit has battled all year surfaced in a 31-16 defeat to the Tigers.

“It was tough,” linebacker Mohamed Sanogo said. “We worked hard in that first half. To let it go like that, it was tough. We came up short but it is something to learn from.”Sanogo led this shorthanded unit in tackles with 16. Auburn came into the game struggling on offense, but drove 52 yards for a touchdown on its opening drive after blocking a Luke Logan field goal attempt. But after that, the defense settled in. It held the Tigers to 186 yards of total offense and just 10 points in the opening half, giving the offense multiple opportunities to seize control of the game. But every time the offense sputtered in the red zone and failed to finish off drives with touchdowns, it squandered an opportunity not often afforded to them by a defense that has struggled to get off the field this season.

“I thought our defense played well in the first half, keeping us in it,” head coach Matt Luke said. “I think the story of the game was the red zone. We have got to find a way to get it in, and it does get tough to against a good defense. It is our jobs as coaches to find ways to get it in the end zone. I thought our players played hard; our defense played hard being depleted.”

Auburn took it 68 yards on the opening drive of the third quarter for a touchdown and things began to unravel for the defense as the Tigers seemingly figured out it could pummel Ole Miss running the football. Boobee Whitlow carried it 19 times for 170 yards. He averaged over eight yards per rush. The defense eventually succumbed to the Tigers in the form of 228 yard third quarter that saw Auburn score 21 points and run away with the football game.

A 54 yard rush from Whitlow and a 62-yard Jarrett Stidham completion to Seth Williams each set up touchdowns and were backbreakers.

“You can’t come out in the second half and give up those two explosive plays,” defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff said. “If you take those plays out, we are still right there in the ballgame. We took them to the 12th round, to the fourth quarter. But those plays will put you out of the game.”

McGriff’s other gripe was that the defense did not force a turnover, something the unit could’ve used to stay afloat — particularly in the second half.

“I wanted to see more physicality on defense,” McGriff said. “When you are more physical, you stop the run and get some turnovers. There were too many missed tackles and too much leaky yardage. We came out of the game without a takeaway. We can’t play in the SEC and note have a takeaway and win a ballgame.”

With all of that said, this struggling defense gave Ole Miss a chance to win the game. It put together a competitive performance that was enough to give the Rebels a chance. But an offense that the team leans so heavily on to put up points in bulk is what failed the Rebels in this game. The offense did not score a touchdown in the first 58 minutes of the game and could not finish drives in the red zone.

“We had a lot of opportunities to score in the red zone,” quarterback Jordan Ta’amu said. “The defense played a hell of a game.”

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