Mississippi unable to overcome Auburn's 23 third-quarter points

AUBURN, Ala. -- It only took Auburn two plays and 12 seconds to grab the momentum, then Mississippi (No. 25 BCS, No. 24 AP) snatched it back with a couple of huge runs.

The Tigers weathered that wild third-quarter swing and rode a resurgent offense to a 33-20 win over the Rebels on Saturday, ending a three-game losing streak and adding to a disappointing season for Ole Miss.

"I went through every emotion, high and low, you can go through in 15 minutes," Auburn coach Gene Chizik said of the 36-point third. "It seemed like 15 days. It was pretty incredible."

Chris Todd passed for 212 yards, Ben Tate ran for 144 yards and Walt McFadden returned an interception for a touchdown to help spark that 23-point third-quarter surge for Auburn (6-3, 3-3 Southeastern Conference).

The Tigers' defense turned away Jevan Snead and the Rebels (5-3, 2-3) seven times on drives to midfield or beyond.

Once ranked No. 4, Ole Miss had appeared to get back on track with two straight wins but couldn't overcome a frenzied third-quarter flurry that led to a 24-point hole. The Rebels stormed back with Jesse Grandy's 82-yard kick return and a 79-yard run by Dexter McCluster but couldn't keep it up.

"I'm extremely disappointed, especially after the way we've been playing," said Snead, who was picked off twice by McFadden. "We really stopped ourselves a lot of the time. We would get something going and we would stall."

McFadden stopped the Rebels' final chance by stepping in front of Snead's pass near the Auburn goal line in the final minutes. He also had a 29-yard return for a score.

Auburn got its offense going after dropping three straight games and raising fears of another late-season collapse. The Tigers dropped six of their last seven in 2008.

The teams traded huge momentum swings in the third quarter, when Auburn nearly reached its 24-point total of the previous two games.

The Tigers scored on back-to-back plays to take a 24-7 lead with 11:25 left. First, Wildcat quarterback Kodi Burns tossed a 14-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tommy Trott. On the next play, McFadden snagged the ball with his right hand after it bounced off the hands of receiver Markeith Summers, then shook off Summers and headed to the end zone.

He celebrated while the play was being reviewed on instant replay -- just in case he had stepped out of bounds and the TD was wiped out.

"When I kept running for the touchdown I was like, 'Man it's not going to count. But I'm going to enjoy this while I can,' " McFadden said. "I know you don't get too many touchdowns returning as a [defensive back]."

Tate then scampered 53 yards for a score, becoming the fifth Auburn back to surpass 3,000 career yards. He tapped an imaginary wristwatch after that play, a gesture the Tigers made after big plays in the game.

"We're just saying it's time for us to do what we got to do," receiver Terrell Zachery said.

Ole Miss couldn't finish most of its sustained drives, but stayed alive with the two big plays by Grandy and McCluster with an Auburn three-and-out in between. McCluster's TD made it 31-20, but Joshua Shene's point-after attempt hit a teammate in the back and Demond Washington returned it all the way for two points.

Ole Miss had a nice chance to pull to within a touchdown midway through the fourth. Todd lost a fumble -- and 21 yards -- when he appeared to try to flick the ball away while going down. The Rebels recovered at Auburn's 24, but lost 21 yards on three plays and a penalty.

"If we had gotten a score, we would have had so much momentum and our defense could have gone out there and done what it had to do," McCluster said

It was typical of Ole Miss's day of missed chances. McCluster had his second straight huge game, rushing for 186 yards on 22 carries and catching four passes for another 17 a week after racking up 260 all-purpose yards.

Snead couldn't get going, completing 16 of 35 passes for 175 yards -- 105 courtesy of Shay Hodge -- and a touchdown and was hurt by several dropped passes.

"Jesse Grandy really gave us a shot in the arm and then McCluster gave us a running game," Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said. "You just can't turn it over."

Ole Miss was 2 of 4 on fourth-down conversions and converted 3 of 15 attempts on third down.

Auburn safety Zac Etheridge sustained a neck injury after a helmet-to-helmet collision with teammate Antonio Coleman. Chizik didn't elaborate on his status after the game.

"He is one tough, tough guy, and he'll rebound," the coach said.