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Auburn avoids Ole Miss upset bid, BCS title hopes still alive

OXFORD, Miss. (AP) -- The Auburn Tigers barely slipped out of
another Southeastern Conference road trap.

The seventh-ranked Tigers turned the ball over, committed costly
penalties and gave up several big plays Saturday, but still managed
to get past gritty Mississippi 23-17 on late field goals by John
Vaughn.

"All of them are on scholarship and all of them are Division I
players," Auburn linebacker Quentin Groves said. "If you go out
there (with the attitude) that, 'OK, this is going to be an easy
win,' you're going to be in for a dog fight."

The Tigers (8-1, 5-1 SEC) trailed the Rebels (2-7, 1-5) twice.
But Auburn intercepted Brent Schaeffer twice in the third quarter
and turned them into 10 points. Vaughn set a school record with his
47th career field goal to pull away late.

Vaughn's 20-yarder put the Tigers up for good with 7:35 left in
the fourth quarter and his 29-yarder sealed it with 35 seconds
left, transforming a sloppy performance into an Auburn victory.

The win was the Tigers' 21st in their last 23 regular-season SEC
games and kept their conference and national title hopes alive. The
last time Auburn played a road game, the Tigers escaped South
Carolina with a 24-17 victory last month.

Auburn had little trouble moving the ball against Ole Miss with
428 total yards and a season-high 253 yards passing by Brandon Cox.
Kenny Irons added 106 yards rushing and Courtney Taylor caught
eight passes for 108 yards.

But the Tigers committed an array of mistakes that allowed the
Rebels to flirt with the upset. They tied a season-high with two
turnovers, dropped several passes, committed nine penalties for 84
yards, also season highs, and gave up 81 yards on three passes to
Ole Miss tight ends.

"I think that the talent level in this conference right now, I
don't think there's that big of a difference," Auburn defensive
coordinator Will Muschamp said. "I don't think that there's any
one team that's so much better than everyone else.

"I think that when you go on the road in this league, you can
expect to grind a win out."

It wasn't until Eric Brock and Aairon Savage picked off
Schaeffer on consecutive drives in Rebels territory that Auburn
began to rally after a 7-7 halftime tie.

Brock's interception set up a 6-yard touchdown run by Brad
Lester that made the score 14-10 with 5:50 left in the third
quarter. Savage set up Vaughn's first field goal from 31 yards out
with 55 second left in the third.

"Turnovers are the death of a football team," said Auburn
coach Tommy Tuberville, a former head man at Ole Miss. "We were
fortunate. ... Turnovers are motivators, especially when you are on
the road."

But Ole Miss, with a couple of assists from Auburn, wasn't
finished. Schaeffer tied the score at 17-17 with a 3-yard touchdown
pass to tight end Lawrence Lilly at 12:06 in the fourth quarter.
The play was set up by a late hit on Schaeffer and defensive
holding in the end zone.

A 45-yard kickoff return by Tristan Davis and a 20-yard pass by
Cox on third down set up Vaughn's 20-yarder to make it 20-17.

The Rebels opened the game with a crisp 81-yard drive that put
them up 7-0 with just 2:43 gone in the game. Tailback Mico McSwain
lined up in the slot on the left side of the line and scored
untouched on a 27-yard end around that seemed to catch Auburn by
surprise.

Schaeffer hit on passes of 37 yards to tight end Robert Lane and
12 yards to Shay Hodge on third down on the opening drive.

Auburn answered with a bruising 15-play, 69-yard drive that
consumed 7:46. Cox was 6-for-6 on the drive, including a 13-yard
touchdown pass to Rodgeriqus Smith with 4:31 left in the first
quarter.

The Rebels spent the rest of the half playing opportunistic
defense. They killed one Tigers' drive with an interception by
Charles Clark at their own 12. It was the first interception throw
by Cox in 113 attempts.

Then Ole Miss ended Auburn's final drive of the half when
defensive end Greg Hardy stripped Lester and recovered the fumble
at the Rebels' 35.

It was the second time this season the Rebels pressed a top 10
team into the fourth quarter, only to fall to a single-digit loss.
They lost to then-No. 10 Georgia 14-9, and also lost 26-23 to
Alabama in overtime.

"This shows everyone who watched the game that Ole Miss is
coming," said Ole Miss linebacker Patrick Willis, the SEC's
leading tackler who made 15 stops. "We are right around the
corner, and we will turn that corner. We can play with anybody, and
we'll come out and compete no matter who they are or what they are
ranked."