Before launching into a look at Gus Malzahn's struggling offense, a round of applause needs to be given for Kevin Steele and the Auburn defense, which once again showed that it is one of the best squads in the country as it held the line repeatedly against one of the best offenses in the country last weekend against LSU.
A casual observer might have noted that LSU gained more than 500 yards of offense and had 30 first downs and come away with the conclusion that this Auburn defense isn't as good as the hype might suggest.
That would be a terrible take. The defense endured an LSU offense that churned out 88 plays, but was held to a season-low 23 points. Defensive linemen Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson lived up to the hype, continually disrupting the Bayou Bengals' backfield despite being held repeatedly.
The Tigers also held LSU to only 47 yards and no points in the first quarter and put together two critical stops in the third quarter to keep LSU in check — making a goal-line stand by stuffing three straight runs inside the 3-yard line and then sniffing out a screen pass on fourth down before cornerback Roger McCreary picked off Heisman frontrunner Joe Burrow on the next possession.
If Auburn could field a half-way decent (and consistent) offense to complement its championship-level defense, the Tigers would likely be undefeated at this point and poised to make a run for the College Football Playoffs.
Alas, that's not to be, as the Auburn offense has struggled, especially in big games, under the play-calling and game-planning of head coach Gus Malzahn and inexperienced leadership of Bo Nix, who has played as though he were rattled for no particular reason but noise in the Tigers' big road games against Florida and LSU.
Nix's play is certainly not his fault; if he is out there making freshman mistakes, it's because he's a freshman and not quite ready for the big stage of primetime football. It's Malzahn's job to either get him ready or explore options that give the Tigers a better chance to win.
The Tigers should use the Ole Miss game this week to figure out some things on offense, although it would be difficult to tell whether a good game indicates much of anything since Auburn is playing an Ole Miss defense that is giving up 409 yards and 27 points a game, which is a far cry from the defenses of LSU, Florida and upcoming opponents Georgia and Alabama.
The passing game needs to most work on offense, and Malzahn needs to help Nix find his comfort zone again and gain confidence in even throwing the routine plays. Help should come this week against a Rebel defense giving up 284 yards a game through the air, which is good for last in the SEC in pass defense.
If Nix continues to overthrow wide open receivers and generally struggles early on in the Ole Miss game, backup quarterback Joey Gatewood deserves his chance to show what he can do, especially since he's reportedly considering transferring from the program.
Gatewood could make the Tigers' running game even more dynamic, although his passing ability is unknown at this point since he's only attempted seven throws on the season, completing five for 54 yards and two touchdowns.
If Gatewood gets his chance and shines, the bye week would come at a perfect time so the offense could adjust to him being under center against Georgia.
In any event, Malzahn needs to get the issues on his offense worked out or the Tigers will likely end the season with two more losses against their rivals regardless of how good the defense plays.
Oh, and the defense this week against Ole Miss? The Tigers should be fine. The Rebels have recently turned into a running team, averaging 233 yards a game on the ground, mostly through the solid play of new starter John Rhys Plumlee, who has rushed for more than 100 yards in the past four games.
The bad news for the Black Bears? Auburn is only giving up109 rushing yards a game.
The Tigers roll into bye week over the Rebels, 38–13.