Rebels, Tigers game features interception leaders
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) Senquez Golson and Jonathan Jones might have been best known for unpleasant moments coming into this season.
Now, they're two of the nation's best pickoff artists, creating more than their share of unpleasant moments for opposing quarterbacks.
No. 7 Mississippi's Golson enters Saturday night's showdown of Southeastern Conference Western Division powers sharing the national lead with eight interceptions, one per game. No. 4 Auburn's Jones is tied for third with five picks in seven games.
''It'll be a good show this weekend,'' Jones said. ''Hopefully he won't get any against us but he's been doing a good job.''
Both cornerbacks were relatively unknown before this season.
Jones didn't play until the Ole Miss game last season after breaking his ankle late in preseason camp. More prominently, he collapsed in pain with a hamstring injury trying to get to Florida State's Kermit Whitfield on a 100-yard kickoff return late in the national championship game defeat.
Golson's biggest claim to fame from his first three years might have been when Alabama tailback Trent Richardson juked him twice during a long touchdown run in 2011.
He's making others look bad these days. Golson has interceptions in four straight games and is already tied for third for the most in a season by an Ole Miss defender with four regular-season games to go. The Rebels lead the nation with 17.
Golson's emergence is no surprise to Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze.
''I can't say I always expected that he would reach it, until fall camp this year when I saw he had really bought in,'' Freeze said. ''I expected him to have a much better year. I don't think there's any accident that the little things around his life, around academics and off the field that it's a direct correlation to how he's playing.
''Those things all matter in a team and in an individual. He's always had the talent and the athletic ability. It's really not surprising that he's playing this well.''
There was no question about the 5-foot-9, 176-pounder's athletic ability. The Boston Red Sox drafted him in the eighth round in 2011, but Golson turned down the contract offer to play for the Rebels.
Now, he's one of the top players on the nation's No. 1 scoring defense. He returned an interception 59 yards for a touchdown against Louisiana-Lafayette.
Jones hasn't been as prolific a thief, but his interceptions have been extremely timely. Three of them have come in the end zone, including a pair in the fourth quarter of Saturday night's 42-35 win over South Carolina. The second came on a Hail Mary on the game's final play.
Jones, who didn't have an interception in his first two seasons, has four in the past two games. He had picks on consecutive drives against No. 1 Mississippi State to set up field goals after the Bulldogs had jumped ahead 21-0.
''You could say he's got a knack but the thing about Jonathan is he's been playing so consistent for us that he keeps making those plays,'' Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said. ''Even sometimes when you don't see the flashy plays, he's really making some important plays for us in other areas.''
The 5-10, 182-pound Jones also made his first career start against Ole Miss as a freshman in 2012. He has been a key figure in a secondary that has already matched last season's 13 interceptions, and is now fifth in that category.
''He's a guy that you look at his size and early in the year people are going to go after him and all that,'' Malzahn said. ''I think he's starting to earn a lot of people's respect. He's played extremely well for us.''