Ole Miss uses 3 INTs to defeat Auburn 17-7

Published 4:56 pm Saturday, November 1, 2008

OXFORD, Miss. – Burned and battered all week by media, fans and even their own coaches, Mississippi cornerbacks Marshay Green and Cassius Vaughn finally made some plays.

Each had his first career interception to stop second-half threats as Ole Miss won consecutive games for the first time since 2004, beating Auburn and embattled former Rebels coach Tommy Tuberville 17-7 on Saturday to move within a game of bowl eligibility.

“We could’ve easily gave up, but we never did,” Vaughn said. “For our seniors, we’re trying to do it for them and for all the people who have stuck with us.”

The duo was criticized heavily after nearly giving away a 23-21 win at Arkansas last week with poor play late, but came through Saturday when it appeared the Tigers (4-5, 2-4 Southeastern Conference) would rally in a game they bumbled through. Ole Miss’ three interceptions were the most for the Rebels (5-4, 3-3) since the 2007 season opener.

With representatives of six bowls in attendance, Ole Miss converted Kodi Burns’ second interception into a game-clinching touchdown late in the fourth quarter on a drive that was aided by three Auburn penalties.

It was the third SEC win for Ole Miss (5-4, 3-3 SEC) under first-year coach Houston Nutt, matching the total put up in three seasons under former coach Ed Orgeron. The win snapped a four-game losing streak to the Tigers (4-5, 2-4), who were 8-1 in Oxford coming into the game.

The Rebels need one more win to clinch one of the SEC’s nine bowl bids. After a week off, they play Louisiana-Monroe before finishing the season at LSU and against Mississippi State.

“This was a giddy week for us because I met with our seniors twice this week and told them we had something to play for,” Nutt said.

“November hasn’t meant something before to this group where they have had something to play for, so there was a real buzz among the players about how important this home game was.”

Ole Miss played against type in the win, reversing many of the foibles and fumbles that cost them victories in four previous losses decided by 19 points.

The Rebels didn’t turn the ball over, improving to 5-0 when they commit two or fewer penalties. And when they gave up the occasional long pass in the second half, they responded with big plays that killed three potential scoring drives in the final 19 minutes.

Meanwhile, the Tigers offense continued to stumble and had as many points as punts. It was the fewest points for Auburn against Ole Miss since the Rebels beat the Tigers 13-7 in the 1965 Liberty Bowl.

The Tigers never crossed midfield in the first half and had just 80 yards in the first two quarters. They finished with a respectable 394 total yards thanks to a handful of long pass completions, but never put together a consistent drive and were held to 75 yards rushing.

Burns completed 27 of 43 passes for a career-high 319 yards in his second straight complete game, but was a liability late.

The Tigers have lost four straight games for the first time since 1999 — Tuberville’s first season after leaving Oxford.

“We got ourselves in a bind,” Tuberville said. “We got our defense in a bind and couldn’t make many plays on offense. … At times Kodi looked good and at times he didn’t.”

Each of Burns’ interceptions came in Ole Miss territory. The Rebels missed a field goal after Vaughn’s pick of a pass that was deflected by Johnny Brown with 3:57 left in the third quarter.

But they put the Tigers away after Burns drove Auburn to the Ole Miss 17, then threw a pass directly to Green in the right flat. Green returned it to the 34.

“That was a big play because it changed the momentum,” Ole Miss defensive end Kentrell Lockett said. “We got the ball on our side again and that was the start of the charge.”

Ole Miss drove 66 yards for the game-clinching touchdown and was aided by two facemasks and a pass interference penalty. The final penalty put Ole Miss at the 3 and Jevan Snead threw his second short touchdown pass to Derrick Davis to seal the game.

Burns’ third interception inside the Rebels 20 ended Auburn’s last threat with less than 4 minutes left.

Snead was off the mark early and had a difficult game, completing 15 of 30 passes for 140 yards. But he threw for both of Ole Miss’ touchdowns and most importantly he didn’t turn over the ball.

“There’s nothing like winning, even if it’s ugly,” Nutt said.

“We’ve been preaching all week that if we don’t turn the ball over, we can beat anyone on our schedule. Today showed just that.”