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Auburn shuts the door on Ole Miss thanks to running game

September 10, 2016: Auburn Tigers running back Kamryn Pettway (36) runs for a first down during an NCAA football game between the Auburn Tigers and the Arkansas State Red Wolves at Jordan Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala. (Photo by Scott Donaldson/Icon Sportswire)
(Photo by Scott Donaldson/Icon Sportswire)

Auburn (6-2, 4-1 SEC) continued to make a strong case for itself as No. 1 Alabama’s toughest SEC contender. The No. 15 Tigers traveled to Oxford, Miss., and knocked off the Ole Miss Rebels (3-5, 1-4 SEC), 40-29.

The win is Auburn’s fifth in a row and its third in a row over an SEC opponent. It was, for the most part, a close affair between the two teams, but when push came to shove, Auburn’s running game once again found a way to move the team forward.

With 5:58 to go in the game and the Tigers clinging to a 33-29 lead, sophomore running back Kerryon Johnson found the end zone on a three-yard run that was effectively the nail in the coffin for Ole Miss.

Johnson finished with two scores, including the one that pushed the game out of reach, but it was his backfield mate, Kamryn Pettway, who stole the show for the Tigers. Pettway has been the big breadwinner for Auburn over the past few weeks while Johnson has been slowed by injury. Against Mississippi State, Pettway rushed an incredible 39 times for 169 yards and three touchdowns. He followed that up with a 192-yard, two-touchdown performance against Arkansas, a game in which he rushed 27 times.

Pettway didn’t find the end zone against Ole Miss as many times as he did versus the Bulldogs and Razorbacks, but he was extremely impressive nonetheless, rushing for over 200 yards. Off the strength of 30 carries and 7.9 yards per carry, the 6-foot, 240 pound back from Montgomery, Ala., rushed for 236 yards and a touchdown.

On his lone touchdown run, he showed off the skill set that makes him the SEC’s top rusher statistically.

He burst through the line of scrimmage like a Mack truck, with Ole Miss defenders bouncing off him as he picked his legs up, lowered his shoulders and burst himself into open space. From there, the Auburn back displayed impressive speed and explosion for such a big player, rumbling his way for a 56-yard touchdown midway through the first quarter.

“The offensive line did a good job,” Malzahn said of Pettway after the game, according to AP Sports writer David Brandtap. “But he also just ran over some people.”

“Nobody really wants to tackle me,” Pettway said on the postgame broadcast.

Pettway’s touchdown was Auburn’s first score and it set the tone for the Tigers. Between Pettway, Johnson, quarterback Sean White and wideout Stanton Truitt, who rushed three times for 13 yards, Ole Miss was simply helpless to stop Gus Malzahn’s elite rushing attack.

As a team, Auburn put up 554 yards of offense, 307 yards coming on the ground. The Tigers rushed 52 times, compared to 22 throws, and gained 5.9 yards per rush.

Perfection Hard to Attain

Though Auburn is undoubtedly on a hot streak and the fourth quarter pull away from Ole Miss was certainly impressive, it wasn’t like the Tigers were perfect in Oxford, especially on defense.

Ole Miss came into the game averaging 454.3 yards per game on offense, but Auburn allowed the Rebels to put up 570 yards of total offense. Rebels’ quarterback Chad Kelly threw for 465 yards on 36-of-59 passing and the Tigers let Ole Miss senior tight end Evan Engram carve them up for 95 yards and a touchdown off the strength of nine receptions (10.6 yards per catch).

If there was any good news defensively for the Tigers, it was that they were able to pick off Kelly once, and it ended up being one of the biggest plays of the game. On 3rd and 8 from the Auburn 39-yard line, senior defensive back Joshua Holsey picked Kelly off and took it back 47 yards to the Mississippi 25.

At that point there was 8:06 left in the game and the Rebels were down only four. Three plays later, Johnson found the end zone for the touchdown that put the game out of reach for Ole Miss, a touchdown that was set up by Auburn’s defense.

Even though the Tigers did give up plenty of yards to Ole Miss, they did step up when it mattered most. Auburn scored 13 points in the fourth quarter, including six from kicker Daniel Carlson, who was 4-for-4 on the night, and the Tigers didn’t allow Ole Miss to score once.

On offense, defense and special teams, the Tigers found a way to shut the door on the Rebels in the all-important fourth quarter, which is the sign of a great team. At this point, one would be hard pressed to argue against that tag for the Tigers. Auburn truly is a great team.

It’s not worth getting ahead of ourselves just yet, but the Nov. 25 matchup with Alabama is in the process of becoming a main-event game of national significance.

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