Ole Miss entered tonight's top five matchup against Auburn banged up from last week's game at LSU. With linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche out for the season and center Ben Still, left tackle Laremy Tunsil, defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche and safety Cody Prewitt all questionable, Ole Miss could not afford more injuries.
But more injuries came and came with a vengeance. Running back I'Tavius Mathers and safety Trae Elston suffered apparent concussions, Tunsil never played a snap, linebacker Serderius Bryant left the game temporarily and, worst of all from an emotional perspective, star wide receiver Laquon Treadwell suffered a brutal ankle/lower leg injury on a critical fourth quarter reception.
With under two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Treadwell appeared to have a 20 yard touchdown catch to give the Rebels a 37-35 lead, but as he stretched towards the end zone, his leg got caught under Auburn linebacker Kris Frost and the ball came loose before crossing the plane of the endzone. Unfortunately, with the nature of the play being under review, ESPN showed numerous replays of the play. Treadwell's ankle was clearly turned backwards, and he will likely be out the remainder of the season. Auburn recovered the fumble in the end zone, and with the limited time remaining and the emotion having been sucked out of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, the Tigers walked out with a hard fought victory.
For the Tigers, they would not have even been in that position without several cases of third down heroics from quarterback Nick Marshall. Auburn went 6-14 on third down, but five of the conversions came on series that ended in Auburn touchdowns. The most critical of those came with Ole Miss leading 24-14 in the third quarter and Auburn deep in its own territory. Marshall scrambled away from pressure and Nkemdiche missed a sack before Marshall hit Williams for a 41 yard completion across midfield. Four plays later, Marshall ran in for a one yard touchdown to get the Tigers back within one score and shifted the momentum of the game.
This game was, however, one that teetered back and forth and the last team to have the ball could have been the one to win. Auburn only outgained the Rebels by 16 yards (502-486) and, despite seeming to control the game on the ground at times, only finished with an average of 0.5 yards per rush more than the Rebels. The biggest doom for the Tigers was themselves as they drew 13 penalties for 145 yards, while Ole Miss doomed itself with a pair of redzone fumbles. In addition to Treadwell's fumble into the endzone, quarterback Bo Wallace fumbled in the fourth quarter while stretching for a first down.
For Ole Miss, it has two Saturdays (with all due respect to Presbyterian) to lick its wounds before traveling to Fayetteville to face a hungry Arkansas. The Rebels' role the rest of the year is potentially as a spoiler to Mississippi State's march towards a perfect season in the Egg Bowl. Auburn will find itself in a prime position to achieve its goals for the year. The SEC West is not in the Tigers hands, but after ranking third in the initial CFP rankings, if the Tigers keep winning, they will find themselves in the playoff. They could, of course, face another elimination game against Alabama in the Iron Bowl, but by winning out would fall squarely within the playoff.