"You got love a situation like that," said Auburn junior tackle Nick Fairley, who led the defensive charge for the Tigers. "I wasn't nervous at all. I thought it was fun. We found a way to make plays and step up as a team and win the football game. I had a great time."
The evening wasn't too bad for defensive coordinator Ted Roof, whose group was the weak link on last year's team. On Saturday night that wasn't the case though.
"We got some good pressure on them in the last series," Roof said. "We mixed it up on them. We didn't sit back there in zone. Our kids executed and I was really proud of the way they didn't let that third down penalty on the last drive get to them. They fought through that. Those things hurt us last year."
Auburn head coach Gene Chizik liked the defensive effort, too. "I thought Coach Roof had a very, very good game plan against a potent offense," Chizik said.
"I thought the players played extremely hard and they executed what we asked them to do most of the time about as good as we can do it. We didn't play perfect, but I think Coach Roof had them in the right spots. We played physical and hard and that was encouraging."
State hit just 16-35 passes for 129 yards and netted just 117 yards on 33 carries against the Auburn defense.
"I enjoyed that one," said Auburn senior linebacker Josh Bynes. "It was good to see the defense step up and play well when the game was on the line."
The Auburn offense sputtered most of the evening. Cameron Newton was the key figure as he netted 70 rushing yards on 18 carries and hit 11-19 passes for 136 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
Auburn won the toss and took the football. That proved to be a good decision as the Tigers drove 68 yards on eight plays to jump to a 7-0 lead.
A key play on the drive was Newton converting a fourth down and less than one yard to go play at the MSU 46 with a five-yard run on a play in which he first looked to throw a deep pass.
Cameron Newton runs for the Tigers.
After that the Tigers cashed in as Newton hit Emory Blake on a short pass in the flat while catching the Bulldogs in a blitz. Using terrific blocks from Terrell Zachery and Kodi Burns, Blake raced 39 yards to the end zone putting the Tigers on top 7-0.
The Tigers' early momentum was negated by a pair of turnovers. The first was a pass into the end zone by Newton that was overthrown and intercepted. The Tigers overcame that miscue, but the next one, a dropped punt by Quindarius Carr at the Auburn 20, set up a three-play scoring drive that featured a fumble into the end zone for the touchdown.
The next turnover went to the Tigers as defensive tackle Nick Fairley deflected an intercepted a pass from quarterback Tyler Russell putting the Auburn offense in good field position at the 50.
Mississippi State's second big mistake was a botched snap. Relf couldn't control the ball and Fairley fell on it at the Mississippi State 44.
Auburn stopped itself on the drive when Newton's third down run on a keeper on third and three at the MSU 11 gained six yards, but the play was called off due to Auburn having too many players in the backfield. On the next play a screen pass attempt wasn't open and Newton threw the ball into the ground to set up a 34-yard field goal by Byrum with 4:29 left in the half. That put the Tigers ahead 17-7.
The Tigers got the football back after a punt at their own 14 with 2:18 to play. At first it looked the Tigers were going to be content to run out the clock, but after a first down they went to a hurry-up offense and drove into MSU territory, but ended the half on the Bulldogs' 36-yard line as time ran out.
At halftime the Tigers held a 215-125 lead in total offense, but the Bulldogs went to work on trying to narrow that margin after getting the second half kickoff.
The Bulldogs marched 63 yards on 12 plays to cut the lead to 17-14 with 8:55 left in the third quarter. Vick Ballard punched the football over the goal line on a third and goal from the one.
Surprisingly, that ended the scoring, but it didn't end the scoring opportunities.
The game came down to the final possession for the Bulldogs. After Auburn's Wes Byrum had a field goal blocked from with 2:19 to play, the Bulldogs took over at the their own 20 and kept the ball for 10 plays before stalling at the Auburn 41 after four straight Chris Relf passes fell incomplete.
Auburn managed just 348 yards of total offense, but the Bulldogs managed just 246.
Eltoro Freeman led the Tigers in tackles with nine, including six solos. Zac Etheridge made five solos with an assists as did Aairon Savage while Bynes added three solo tackles with three assists.