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Matt Corral arrived on the Plains with well-deserved Heisman hype. But a few minutes past intermission Bo Nix and Auburn were on the verge of taking control of a Top 25 primetime showdown with 10th-ranked Ole Miss.

Then an offensive shootout turned into an old-school defensive slog. Field position replaced style points. And the compelling question became which defense could hold up when the offenses returned to form.

You know the answer by now. The 18th-ranked Tigers managed to pull off the upset 31-20. Destiny, as they say, belongs to Auburn the rest of the way.

For a half, Corral was good, but Nix was better. To be fair, Corral twisted his ankle late in the first quarter and had to be transported to the locker room for further examination. He missed less than a full series. How much the injury affected him, we don’t know because he played most of the night under duress from the Auburn front seven.

Meanwhile, Nix went 12 of 15 passing for 150 yards in the first 30 minutes. But while Auburn turned Ole Miss one dimensional, Nix provided balance with his ability to run — twice into the end zone — and with a breakout half from Tank Bigsby. That’s how Auburn built a 28-17 lead.

But on the verge of delivering a TKO, everything that could go wrong went wrong. Much of it self-inflicted.

A 43-yard field goal attempt from Anders Carlson to open the second half would have pushed the lead to 14 points. Instead, the kick pushed right, caroming off the upright. After Auburn’s defense held, a muffed punt return gave Ole Miss prime-real estate at the Tigers 29.

Again, Auburn held. Instead of going for points on fourth-and-1 at the 20, Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin gambled and paid the price when Corral’s pass sailed behind an open receiver.

Instead of changing momentum, the moment furthered Auburn’s resolve. 

On its next opportunity, Corral hit back-to-back passes for 29 and 23 yards, respectively, moving back inside the Red Zone before the drive stalled. This time, Kiffin took the points and shaved Auburn’s lead to 28-20.

Auburn answered with a Carlson field goal. Just when it seemed Corral was back in Heisman form, Auburn’s Jaylin Simpson stepped in front of a pass in the end zone to snuff another threat.

The reprieve proved short lived. After Ole Miss stripped Auburn’s Kobe Hudson of the ball near midfield, Corral quickly had the Rebels back in the Red Zone. Again, Kiffin gambled on fourth down instead of taking the field goal. 

Again, the Auburn defense held. This time, the Tigers offense took over and wouldn’t let go, draining the clock.

We said a week ago that Auburn had changed its trajectory for the season. Saturday night, before a full house at capacity decibels, Auburn changed Ole Miss’.

The Rebels mission was simple: Win out, go to Atlanta and play for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Now, Auburn can. The task is arduous — especially with a trip to Texas A&M and a visit from Alabama among other challenges. But we’ve seen this movie before. Head into Thanksgiving weekend with a chance against Alabama and anything — emphasis on anything — can happen on the Plains

For first-year coach Bryan Harsin, this season is already a success. This is a hard-nosed team that’s improved dramatically the last two months.

But what lies ahead could lead to a season for the ages.

Doug Segrest, a former SEC beat reporter, is a freelance columnist.

This article originally ran on


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