Wednesday, 5 November 2003

Corso headscratcher

Lee Corso writes the following at in his “Lee-mail” column about the Rebels’ upcoming game with Auburn:

How do you see this weekend’s SEC West matchup between Auburn and Ole Miss?—Mike, Phoenix, Ari.

The biggest question is whether Mississippi can stop the Auburn running game. The Rebels are near the bottom of the SEC in rushing defense while the Tigers have shown they can run against anyone when they’re hot. Throw in quarterback Jason Campbell hitting some play action and Auburn can be dangerous. But Eli Manning and the Ole Miss offense can put up some numbers, too, but this will be the toughest test Mississippi encounters for the remainder of the year. [emphasis added]

Only one problem with this statement: the Rebels are #13 in the country and #3 in the SEC in rushing defense, conceding just 90.1 ypg on the ground. (Auburn is #14/#4, giving up 92.0 ypg rushing.) They can stop the run. The area where the Rebels are inconsistent—and vulnerable—is in pass defense (#115 nationally and dead last in the SEC, with 307.9 ypg), particularly against the “deep ball,” which Texas Tech and Memphis successfully exploited in their wins and which helped South Carolina back into the game this past weekend.

I agree that if Campbell can pull off the play action pass, Auburn probably has a good shot. But Campbell is a woefully inconsistent passer (4 TDs and 8 INTs on the season) who could easily get burned if he tries to go with the deep ball—ask Chris Leak, who threw 3 INTs to the Rebel secondary in Gainesville; this will require Carnell Williams and Auburn’s Brandon Jacobs (not to be confused with Ole Miss’ Brandon Jacobs, who plays the same position) to both be effective on the run and to catch short passes from Campbell. I’d expect them to have some success on the ground—I’ll be surprised if the Rebels can keep Auburn under 150 yards rushing, excluding sacks—but I don’t see Campbell passing for big numbers (the numbers he will put up will be largely due to yards after the catch) and I expect him to take at least a couple of sacks and to throw a costly pick.

On the other side of the ball, though, the only people who can beat the Rebels’ offense are themselves. The South Carolina game could—and should—have been 44-14 at halftime, if not for two silly turnovers in the red zone, and the Rebels have essentially been able to execute at-will against every defense they’ve faced this year except in the season opener at Vanderbilt and at Florida.

I also think that, overall, LSU is a tougher test for the Rebels: they have a more effective passer, better balance overall, and a smarter coach. However, the Rebs will be at home facing LSU and coming off an off-week, so arguably the difficulty level of the challenges balances out.

My sketch of a prediction for Saturday is that Ole Miss wins a nailbiter, probably with a score in the 27-21 range.

Also on Corso’s page, I’m inclined to agree that if Florida beats FSU, they should probably get the SEC East bid (if there’s a tiebreaker). My guess though is that the ADs will vote for the team with the highest poll ranking, unless there’s a convoluted scenario that permits the conference to secure a second bid to a BCS bowl.