Blake Countess (above) joined the Auburn team this summer.
Auburn, Ala.--Graduate student defensive Blake Countess said he believes the Auburn defense took a step forward in the Tigers’ 17-9 loss to Mississippi State on Saturday at before a sellout crowd of 87,451 at Jordan Hare Stadium.
The transfer from Michigan moved from cornerback to safety in place of Johnathan "Rudy" Ford to open the game in one of several lineup changes promised by defensive coordinator Will Muschamp after the Tigers struggled on that side of the ball in their first three games.
“We played better against the run and not so well against the pass,” said Countess, who also played cornerback against the Bulldogs.
Mississippi State’s pre-season All-SEC quarterback, Dak Prescott, riddled the Auburn defense for 270 yards passing and two touchdowns on 29 connections in 41 attempts. Both touchdowns and 180 of his passing yards came in the first half.
“I think the defense took a step forward," Countess said. "Obviously, we didn’t get the job done--so it wasn’t enough. That’s the bottom line,” Countess said. “We had trouble with Dak on the dink-and-dunk passes. He wasn’t throwing that much down field, but those dink-and-dunk passes keep the chains moving. You’ve got to get off the field on third down. We did a better job of that in the second half.”
The statistics bear that out. The Bulldogs were three-of-four on third-down conversions in the first half and only one-of-eight in the second half.
Countess, who led Auburn with nine tackles, a tackle for a loss and two pass break-ups, said adjustments by the defense made a difference.
“That tempo they ran will get you at first. You have to step back and calm down. We made our adjustments pretty well. We just have to keep improving and get ready for next week (against San Jose State),” Countess said.
In other news and notes:
In addition to redshirt freshman Sean White getting the start at quarterback replacing Jeremy Johnson who started Auburn’s first three games, defensive changes in the starting lineup were Raashed Kennion at end, Justin Garrett at linebacker, Carlton Davis at cornerback, Blake Countess at safety and Jeremiah Denson at nickel. Garrett was out with an injury the previous week against LSU. Countess moved from cornerback to safety, replacing Johnathan Ford. Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy were starters at linebacker against LSU.
Sean White is the first Auburn freshman quarterback to make his first start in an SEC game since Jeff Klein at Tennessee in 1999. Auburn has had six freshman starters at quarterback since 2000.
Auburn captains were DaVonte Lambert, Johnathan Wallace and Alex Kozan. Injured Carl Lawson and Wallace had served as captains early in the season.
The first play under White was a handoff to Peyton Barber for a one-yard gain. His first completion was for seven yards to Duke Williams. After four straight completions, White was intercepted in the end zone on a 3rd-and-2 situation from the Mississippi State five-yard line. That was White’s only incompletion in the first half as he finished 9-of-10 for 92 yards.
White finished with 20 completions in 28 attempts for 188 yards. He rushed for 39 yards on 11 carries while being sacked four times for 37 yards that counted against his rushing total. White’s long run was 31 yards on a zone-read play.
Auburn outrushed the Bulldogs 88 to 20 in the first half, but MSU carried the ball only seven times to 26 for the Tigers. Bulldog quarterback Dak Prescott put the ball in the air 20 times with 16 completions for 180 yard in the first 30 minutes. MSU outgained Auburn 200 to 180 yards in the first half. The Tigers possessed the ball 19:54 to only 10:06 for the Bulldogs in the first 30 minutes.
With a strong effort by the defense in the second half, the Tigers outgained MSU 209 to 126 yards total offense the final 30 minutes. Auburn finished with 389 yards offense—201 yards on the ground and 188 in the air—to 326 yards total offense for the Bulldogs.
The Tigers had multiple first-time starters on defense in each of its first four games. There have been 11 first-time starters on defense and 17 first-time starters overall for Auburn this season.