Ole Miss-Auburn Preview
Auburn, AL - Whether Mississippi can repeat last year's season-ending surge might hinge again on the versatile Dexter McCluster's continued success.
After a career performance last weekend, McCluster will try to help the visiting 24th-ranked Rebels earn consecutive wins over Auburn for the first time in 57 years on Saturday.
Oddsmakers from online sports book Sportsbook.com have made Ole Miss –3.5 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Saturday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 75% of bets for this game have been placed on Ole Miss –3.5 (View College Football bet percentages).
Following a 3-4 start last season, Mississippi closed with a six-game win streak which featured an upset of LSU and a surprise win over Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl.
That fueled high expectations for the Rebels, who were ranked eighth in the preseason. They climbed as high as No. 4 after consecutive non-conference wins before a 16-10 loss at South Carolina on Sept 24.
Ole Miss (5-2, 2-2 SEC) fell out of the Top 25 following a 22-3 home loss to then-No. 3 Alabama on Oct. 10 but has returned after consecutive victories, including last Saturday's 30-17 win over visiting Arkansas.
Until that game, McCluster had seen his production and touches dip from a year ago, mostly because opposing defenses were keying in on him, Rebels coach Houston Nutt said.
McCluster saw the ball an average of 14.2 times during the 6-0 close to the 2008 season and finished with 1,280 yards from scrimmage - 655 rushing and 625 receiving. He averaged just nine touches through six games this year, getting held to 362 yards of offense.
Maybe that drop-off left Arkansas thinking he was no longer a big threat offensively, but he proved otherwise by rushing for a career-high 123 yards on 22 carries and catching seven passes for a career-best 137 yards.
"Dexter is a special athlete. This guy makes things happen. As long as he is healthy, you always want to try to get him the football," Nutt said. "He is just a tremendous weapon for us, and we have to keep him going."
Jevan Snead passed for a career-high 332 yards and two touchdowns, but he also was intercepted twice, bringing his season total to 11 in 194 attempts.
Snead had 13 interceptions last season but didn't have one against Auburn in a 17-7 win Nov. 1. He had two touchdown passes while McCluster contributed 131 yards of total offense.
That victory ended a four-game losing streak to the Tigers and was just Mississippi's fourth in 26 meetings dating to 1971. The Rebels haven't won two in a row in this series since taking three straight from 1949-52.
However, Ole Miss has won just twice in 13 all-time games at Auburn's Jordan-Hare Stadium and has lost its last two visits by a combined 44-6 score.
The Tigers are trying to avoid a fourth straight loss after starting 5-0 under first-year coach Gene Chizik.
Keying Auburn's slide is an offense that's gained fewer yards and scored fewer points in each game since a 54-30 win over Ball State on Sept. 26. The Tigers (5-3, 2-3) gained 560 yards in that victory, but were held to a season-low 193 in last Saturday's 31-10 loss at No. 9 LSU.
Chris Todd, Neil Caudle and Kodi Burns combined to pass for 81 yards in 20 attempts, with Caudle throwing the team's only touchdown with three seconds left.
"They beat us in about every phase of football game, from the beginning to the end and probably everywhere in between," Chizik said. "We got exposed tonight in some areas. I think that was evident."
While Auburn's offensive production has declined, its defense has struggled for much of the season. The Tigers have yielded 26.9 points per game to rank 10th in the SEC and an average of 368.6 yards to rank 11th.
The Rebels defense, meanwhile, gave up two touchdowns in a game for just the second time this season last week. Ole Miss ranks No. 9 nationally in yielding an average of 13.6 points and is 20th in total defense (300.0 ypg), besides leading the SEC with 3.0 sacks per game.
Auburn leads the series 24-9, but Nutt is 6-5 against the Tigers.
Posted: 10/27/09 8:50PM ET