Kamryn Pettway runs for yardage on the way to scoring three touchdowns for the Tigers.
Starkville, Miss.--Putting together one of the most dominating first halves in recent Auburn football history, the Auburn Tigers passed their first road test of the season with no problem, cruising a 38-14 SEC victory over the Mississippi State Bulldogs on Saturday.
Four offensive touchdowns and another one on defense sent the Tigers into the locker room at halftime up by 35 points. Even though the visitors didn’t get a lot accomplished the rest of the day at Davis Wade Stadium, Coach Gus Malzahn said there were too many good things that happened for his football team to worry about that in the aftermath of his team’s third consecutive victory.
“I am very proud of our players and I am very proud of our coaches,” said Malzahn, whose Tigers improved to 4-2 overall and 2-1 in the SEC. Mississippi State fell to 2-3 overall and 1-2 in the league.
“We are getting better,” Malzahn said. “Our team knows it, our coaches know it. We have got to continue to do that. Very few teams in college football actually get better throughout the year. We have a chance to be one of those teams.
“We are still green in some areas, we are still learning, but we know a lot more about our players than we did,” Malzahn added. “We need a really good off week this week to fine-tune some things. We have got a chance to finish this thing strong.”
Mississippi coach Dan Mullen said Auburn’s linemen were the big factor in the lopsided victory. “It starts up front,” he said. “They physically won the line of scrimmage.”
Auburn senior offensive guard Alex Kozan agreed with Malzahn that the Tigers are making progress. “We came out strong even though the turnover on the first series is not how we wanted to start,” Kozan pointed out. “The defense held them, they missed the kick so we got right back out there and drove on them.
“I thought we had good drives throughout the first half and the defense helped us,”?Kozan added. “We accomplished what was pretty much our major goal, which was to score touchdowns in the red zone.”
Junior linebacker Tre Williams said the victory in Starkville was “really fun” with the Tigers performing so well in the first half. “We played really good defense in the first half,”?he said. “We just have to finish up better.”
The Bulldogs ended the game with 289 total yards after having just 91 at halftime. Auburn gained 432 yards with 335 coming in the first two quarters.
“The first half was our best of the year,” said Williams, who led the Tigers in tackles with four solos and four assists. Safety Tray Matthews was in on seven tackles and nickel Rudy Ford was in on six.
Kyle Davis caught two passes for 34 yards for the Tigers.
Offensively, Kamryn Pettway was the workhorse for the Tigers after Kerryon Johnson injured his ankle in the first quarter after three carries for 21 yards. Pettway ran the ball 39 times for 169 yards and three scores.
“Kerryon had to carry the load last week so I had to step it up and do this time,” said Pettway, who missed the ULM game with a bruised quad muscle.
The redshirt sophomore admitted he was “a little blowed” at points of the game with the heavy work load, but enjoyed the opportunity. “I think I?made a big statement carrying the ball 39 times,”?Pettway said. “I had a couple of ball security issues, but that is going to get fixed.”
Sean White had an efficient day throwing the ball, hitting 14-18 passes for 204 yards and one touchdown with one interception that was not the fault of the quarterback.
Auburn quickly rallied from a poor start when Tony Stevens couldn’t handle a well-thrown pass on the third play of the game that was intercepted by Kivon Coman, giving the Bulldogs great field position at the AU 19.
Despite Carl Lawson lining up offside and giving MSU a do-over on third down, the Bulldogs were held to a field goal attempt, which sailed wide letting the Tigers off the hook.
Malzahn said the defensive stand was a real momentum builder for the Tigers, who took command after that.
Auburn’s second possession was much better as the Tigers moved 80 yards on nine plays to score on a three-yard pass to Ryan Davis. White rolled out left on s third down play before making the throw right on target. The big play on the possession was a 36-yard pass to Stevens to the seven-yard line, who caught three passes for a game-high 64 yards.
After forcing a three-and-out, Auburn got the ball back at its 21-yard line and put together an impressive 12-play drive with the Tigers moving the ball with White’s pin-point passing and power running by Pettway, who was getting all of the carries with Johnson out with an injury.
Pettway scored the touchdown, powering in at guard from a yard out with 3:44 left in the first quarter.
A big play from the defense set up Auburn’s third touchdown. Marlon Davidson’s hit on quarterback Nick Fitzgerald popped the football into the air enabling Montravius Adams to recover at the AU 40.
“It is a blessing to come out here and have the performance that I did in my first road game,” said Davidson, a true freshman defensive end. “I thank my coaches and everybody getting me prepared for today. My first sack in an away game is really special.”
The Tigers steadily moved the football into scoring position to set up a three-yard run at right guard by Pettway to make the score 21-0 with 12:15 left in the second quarter.
Auburn stretched the margin to 28-0 with 1:54 left before intermission. The Tigers only had to move 40 yards after a 22-yard punt by the Bulldogs. Pettway set up his two-yard touchdown run by running 29 yards before being ruled out of bounds at right end.
The defense got into the scoring act on the next possession as Montravius Adams got a touchdown on a scoop and score 13-yard return after Carl Lawson hit the quarterback as he tried to pass. That play sent the Tigers into the locker room up 35-0.
“I just want to say thank you to Carl,” said Adams, who noted that he had a dream on Friday night that he would score a touchdown on a play just like the one before halftime.
In the second half the Bulldogs scored on drives of 69 yards and 45 yards while Auburn added a 25-yard Daniel Carlson field goal with 1:39 left to make the final score 38-14.
Worth Noting, Part 1: Xavier Dampeer was “75 to 80 percent” of full speed, Malzahn said. The coach noted that was the reason for holding the senior center out for a second consecutive week and starting Austin Golson at center and Darius James at Golson’s left tackle spot.
Malzahn said that MSU plays a 320-pound noseguard and that wasn’t a good situation for Dampeer trying to block him with an ankle sprain.
Worth Noting, Part 2: Malzahn didn’t discuss it publically in the postgame, but was unhappy on a variety of officiating calls made by the crew led by referee Brad Rogers.
Worth Noting, Part 3: Kerryon Johnson was on crutches after the game and Malzahn did not give a report on how serious the sophomore's injury is.
Stat of the Game: Auburn scored on all five trips into the red zone with four touchdowns and one field goal. AU appeared to score on a John Franklin QB keeper on its last possession, but the play was overturned by a holding call, much to the dismay of AU’s head coach.
The Tigers are off next Saturday and will return to action the following week with a home game vs. Arkansas.