“With the two-quarterback system you can prepare for different guys and look at the styles of each of them,” senior defensive end Bret Eddins says. “With three quarterbacks it’s almost too much information to cover. We just have to go out there and try to do the best we can with our defense and execute.”
Sophomore Ethan Flatt leads the team in passing with 1,074 yards, four touchdowns and seven interceptions. Junior Michael Spurlock, who was Eli Manning’s backup the last two seasons, was the starter at the beginning of the year and has thrown for 332 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. Spurlock, a rollout-type quarterback, and freshman Robert Lane, who has only thrown five passes all season, are capable of beating defenses with their legs. The Rebels like to use an option attack with Lane under center.
“From what we’ve seen so far they’ve been playing three quarterbacks,” free safety Will Herring says. “Two of them are good athletes and we’re going to have to contain them and keep them in the pocket, and the other one is a true passer. I feel like if we go out and take care of our business then we’ll come out on top.”
Tommy "T.J." Jackson is a key player on the Auburn defense.
Junior noseguard Tommy Jackson says that preparing for three quarterbacks and three different offensive systems will make game-planning a bit more difficult. “A lot of teams have more than one quarterback that they can play. It just so happens that Ole Miss has three. It’s three different aspects of the game that we’re going to have to get ready for.”
After a slow start to the season for the entire Ole Miss offense, junior tailback Vashon Pearson has come on strong in recent weeks and has 608 yards on the ground with three touchdowns averaging five yards per carry. With almost entirely veteran players at receiver and on the offensive line, Auburn defensive coordinator Gene Chizik said earlier in the week that it will be two of the better units the Tigers have faced all season. The top 10 reception leaders for the Rebels are either juniors or seniors.
“They seem like a team that has really improved a lot,” Herring says. “We’re going to get their best performance. Any time you’re one of the top teams in the nation and leading the SEC you’re going to have a bull’s-eye on your back.”
Auburn sophomore defensive end Stanley McClover, who has made drastic improvements though the season as well, says that Saturday’s game will be one of the toughest challenges of the year for the Tigers.
“Games like this are self-motivating,” he says. “You’re going to get up for it, and when we’re up for a game we are hard to be stopped. We’re treating this game just like a championship game. We’re going in with the mindset that it’s the biggest game we’re going to play all year. We’re going to play hard and just remember what Ole Miss did to us last year. We’re going to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
Defensive end Stanley McClover played a strong game last week vs.Kentucky.
At 8-0 overall and 5-0 in the conference, Auburn has a chance to wrap up the SEC West title with a win against Ole Miss. Making a trip to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game was one of the goals of the team this year, but some Tigers are surprised at how quickly the opportunity has come.
“We blinked our eyes and then we’re 8-0,” Herring says. “It’s come about so fast. I think this team’s maturity has really shown by how we’ve taken it one game at a time. We realize what’s at stake, but we have to just focus on this game and clinch the SEC West, then move on after that.”
While winning the West would be a big accomplishment for the Tigers, who started the season ranked 17th and 18th in the polls, they have a chance to achieve greater goals if they keep winning.
“If we aren’t focused for Ole Miss then nothing else matters,” Jackson says. “If we lose this ball game, it’s the end of the BCS and the high rankings. Our most important goal is to get better and get ready to play Ole Miss. They’re going to be ready to play.”