AUBURN — In the first half at Arkansas, the techniques that Auburn's defensive linemen had prepared weren't working. The Tigers were losing the line of scrimmage.
The coaching staff directed Auburn's linemen to change their pre-snap alignments in a subtle adjustment meant to beat Arkansas' blockers.
"That allowed us to get off better and come off lower and harder and put a dent in the run," sophomore Colby Wooden said. "That showed what they were talking about worked.”
Wooden got a sack late in the second quarter and another after halftime in the 38-23 win on Oct. 16. And even as the defense grew exhausted by the sheer number of reps of the third quarter, the front improved at slowing down the run in a few key spots.
To Wooden, it was more evidence of the attribute that has impressed him most about Auburn's new coaching staff: Adaptability.
"One of the key things I’ve noticed is that if something is not working or needs to be fixed, they make the adaptation," the lineman said. "They change what’s not working that needs to be improved. That’s one thing I can say. If something is not working, they will get on it and fix it right then and there. That’s something I love and enjoy."
Auburn's run defense against Arkansas was worn down at times, but the Tigers managed to keep the Razorbacks to an acceptable 4.3 yards per carry on 54 tries, in a game with 91 defensive snaps.
Those in-game adjustments that helped boost Auburn (5-2, 2-1 SEC) will be key against No. 10 Ole Miss (6-1, 3-1) on Saturday (6 p.m.) at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Rebels have a sneaky talented running back room that doesn't get much attention because quarterback Matt Corral is the team's leading rusher.
The backfield trio of Snoop Conner, Jerrion Ealy and Henry Parrish Jr. combined for 272 yards on 36 carries (7.6 per carry) to beat LSU 31-17 last week while Corral wasn't at his best running the ball. All three are consistent: Connor averages 5.8 yards this season, Parrish averages 5.5 and Ealy averages 5.4. Ole Miss has the legs to beat teams that sell out to defend the star quarterback.
"They run a lot of different things, whether they're trying to get outside, inside, between the tackles," Wooden said. "Different personnel, with 24, Snoop Conner, being a bigger back. Ealy being a more elusive one as well as 25 (Parrish)."
Different styles of running back will be met by different approaches from Auburn's defense. As coach Bryan Harsin noted Monday, Ealy and Parrish are also more involved in the pass game.
Wooden, who has transformed into a young leader on Auburn's defensive front, is confident the Tigers will be able to stop any variety of looks from Ole Miss in the run game. Why? Because he has already been guided toward the best adjustments against another good rushing team. Arkansas — and the first seven games in general — established a trust between players and coaches regarding in-game adjustments.
"With this game, they're similar in the sense that they want to hurry up, run pace, try and get you tired," he said. "They look to run the ball to set up shots. Most people think that they're a drop-back team but they actually run the ball quite a bit. ... We've just got to do what we did last time, which is stay in our gaps, tighten down, run to the ball, and just play football. We should be fine."