‘They’re my enemy until the end of the game’: 2 Auburn transfers set to greet Tigers at Ole Miss

Auburn will be greeted by a couple of familiar faces across the field at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium this weekend.

JJ Pegues and Ladarius Tennison, a pair of former Auburn signees in the 2020 class, will be suiting up against their former team Saturday when ninth-ranked Ole Miss (6-0, 2-0 SEC) hosts Auburn (3-3, 1 -2) in Oxford, Miss. The two former Tigers are among the 19 players who transferred from Auburn in the offseason and are part of the group of 14 that Rebels coach Lane Kiffin plucked from the transfer portal this year.

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“Me and LT, we talk just about it — we’re just like, take it as a normal game, take it as any other opponent, but we also know we got love for them on the other side,” Pegues said this week . “But at the end of the day, there’s only one goal — to get the win.”

Pegues and Tennison have acclimated themselves well this season to their new SEC West team, which heads into this weekend’s matchup with the nation’s 11th-best scoring defense (14.5 points per game). Pegues, an Oxford native, has appeared in five games at defensive tackle while Tennison has played in all six games for Ole Miss, making five starts in the secondary.

A former four-star prospect who signed with Auburn as a tight end before making the move to defensive tackle, Pegues has 10 tackles, one sack and a quarterback hurry for the Rebels this season. The 6-foot-2, 315-pounder is coming off a three-tackle performance against Vanderbilt in which he also made a return to the offensive side of the ball, serving as a lead blocker on one of Ole Miss’ four rushing touchdowns in the 52-28 win.

While at Auburn, Pegues became a fan favorite as a freshman, lining up at tight end and getting snaps in a super-sized Wildcat package, though he finished the 2020 season with just five carries for 14 yards, seven catches for 57 yards and completed his only pass attempt. He switched over to defensive tackle ahead of his sophomore season, recognizing he had a better long-term outlook on that side of the ball. Pegues posted 17 tackles with two for a loss and a forced fumble last fall for the Tigers.

In six games this season at Ole Miss, Tennyson has 23 tackles, with 4.5 for a loss and a pair of pass breakups, plus two fumble recoveries—one of which he returned for a touchdown. He has worked into an expanded role after appearing in 23 games during his two seasons on the Plains. He had 43 tackles, including 4.5 for a loss while seeing time at nickel and serving a key role on special teams for Auburn.

Tennison hit the transfer portal at the end of the regular season last November, becoming the fifth Auburn player at the time to leave the program. He said this week that part of the reason he decided to leave Auburn was the opportunity to “change up my game.” He believes he has done that in his first season at Ole Miss.

“I got smarter, just being able to learn a lot of things from this type of defense, from the coaches, so I feel like I changed a little bit,” Tennyson said.

Pegues entered the portal Jean. 17, becoming the sixth defensive lineman to leave Auburn in the offseason and the 15th overall player to transfer out during a tumultuous offseason of turnover for Harsin’s program. As a native of Oxford, transferring to Ole Miss made plenty of sense for Pegues, who also expressed a desire to remain in the SEC West, which he described as the toughest division in college football, even if it meant having to go up against his former team annually.

When Pegues hit the portal, Kiffin didn’t hesitate to contact him; it was a chance to bring the homegrown product back to Oxford, since Kiffin didn’t have much of an opportunity to recruit him when the coach took over at Ole Miss. Kififn was hired Dec. 6, 2019, and Pegues committed and signed with Auburn 12 days later during the early signing period.

In fact, Kiffin said, the first time the two ever really got to talk was after Pegues’ name showed up in the portal.

“Me and Lane talked about it a little bit,” Pegues said. “We just joke around about it, how he says I never gave him an opportunity to recruit me, but it was really just deep into my recruitment, and I was more to the Mississippi-Alabama (All-Star) game, and I just really had my mind set on one thing. I just didn’t want any other burdens, because for a high schooler that’s a lot to deal with, and going to the Mississippi-Alabama game was really important to me. I was really just locked into that. We really just joke about it every now and then.”

That’s not all Kiffin jokes about, either. When asked Wednesday during the SEC coaches teleconference if he makes note of potential portal players to look out for on opposing teams when watching film, the coach some Rebels fans have dubbed the Portal King deadpanned: “Sure, we’re getting ready to play against a number of them” this weekend when Auburn visits Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

Kiffin clarified that portal scouting is more of an offseason endeavor, but he’s certainly pleased with the two transfers he plucked from the Plains earlier this year.

“They’re both really neat kids, enjoyable to be around, high energy, fun—you know, which you don’t always necessarily know because you’re dealing with the portal; it’s different recruiting than recruiting guys for years,” Kiffin said. “…Really cool kids, really good players, and glad they’re here.”

As for Pegues and Tennison, the two seem excited about the opportunity to see some familiar faces — several of whom they have stayed in touch with — Saturday, even if they’re on the opposing sideline. During those 60 minutes of action, though, it’s all business.

“You just focus on where you’re at, where your feet are at, just being there and not having too many emotions,” Pegues said. “…I still love them, like I said; they’re my friends, but at the end of the day, I’m playing them, so they’re my enemy until the end of the game.”

Tom Green is an Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Thomas_Verde.

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