AU Defense Neuters Bulldogs In 28-0 Shutout

Auburn scored in each quarter to open its SEC title defense with a victory.

Auburn, Ala.--The look on Tommy Jackson's face was worth a 1,000 words as he munched on a hot dog and savored the aftermath of shutout victory over the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

"This game will give our defense a lot of confidence," says the Auburn noseguard, who was distressed following an opening night loss to Georgia Tech a week earlier to start his final college season.

"This win will give us a boost going into the rest of the SEC season," Jackson says. "It's great getting a shutout. That doesn't normally happen in an SEC game. We feel good about it."

The Tigers scored a touchdown in each quarter to take a 28-0 victory on Saturday to even their record at 1-1 while the visiting Bulldogs slipped to 1-1 with their fifth straight loss to Auburn.

The defense got one of the scores on a day at Jordan-Hare Stadium in which the offense tried to establish a running attack that was missing opening night. The effort produced mixed results.

Auburn improved its rushing total from 50 to 118 from game one to game two, but averaged an not too impressive 2.9 yards per running play. However, the Bulldogs netted just 81 on the ground at 2.1 per pop and All-SEC tailback Jerious Norwood wasn't totally neutered, but he was neutralized with 39 yards on 10 carries.

The visitors netted just 207 yards of total offense to 320 for Auburn, which cut down on the penalties and turnovers on offense that plagued the Tigers on opening night. By not beating themselves, the Tigers were able to take a comfortable, workman-like victory.

"I set a goal for myself of having no turnovers and that happened although I floated a pass one time that could have been intercepted," said quarterback Brandon Cox about his second college start.

After throwing for 342 yards in the opener, he had 202 in game two as he completed 12-18 passes while the Tigers ran the ball 41 times.

"Brandon Cox had an okay game," noted Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville. "It's wasn't a real good mental game for us on offense."

Tuberville said the sophomore QB needs to get better at getting the offense into the right play. On the plus side, the head coach said the elimination of penalties was a major positive. He said there were even more good things on defense.

"Our defense adjusted well and it was a monumental effort," said the coach, who added, "It was a defensive victory for us today."

AU's defensive coordinator, David Gibbs, was less impressed with the performance even though he noted it was a big improvement from week one.

"I think anybody who watched the football game knows that we got pressure on the quarterback, a lot better than we did in the first game," Gibbs said. "We got him shaky. He was moving his feet around. I think that was the biggest key."

Last week, Georgia Tech quarterback Reggie Ball put pressure on the defense with his quickness on the corner as a threat to pass and run. Conner likes to do the same thing, but seldom could get outside. "I think that was very important," Gibbs noted. "Anytime you are playing against those great athletes you have to keep them contained inside the defense, and, for the most part, we did it."

Not only did the Tigers contain him, they sacked him five times for 38 yards in losses. Wayne Dickens, Quentin Groves, Will Herring, Marquies Gunn and Christopher Browder each got a sack.

Quentin Groves joined the sack attack for the Tigers.

Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom said he was disappointed in his team's performance. "We played a good team today," he said. "We lost, not necessarily got beat. We beat ourselves to a large degree. From the start to finish, we didn't so some things well. We had way too many penalties and turnovers and that is the bottom line."

Auburn, which had 11 penalties and five turnovers in the opener, dramatically reduced those numbers to one penalty and one turnover. MSU had eight penalties and three turnovers--two lost fumbles and an interception by safety Eric Brock.

Auburn won the toss for a second straight week and changed strategy, electing to receive. Tuberville said that was because the defense started slow last week and in preseason scrimmages.

Auburn kept the ball for six plays with four tailbacks touching the football. Tre Smith started and ran the ball for two yards to open the game. Carl Stewart gained nine on the second play, Kenny Irons gained 23 on a screen pass on play three and Brad Lester lost five on a run.

The Tigers stalled on third and 13 at the MSU 49 when Courtney Taylor could not catch a pass from Cox. Kody Bliss looked like he pinned the Bulldogs on the two with a nice play by Montae Pitts to down the ball, but the officials ruled it was a touchback.

State then went three and out against the Auburn defense, which allowed the Bulldogs just one first down in the opening quarter.

The Tigers got the football at their own 41 and drove 59 yards on eight plays to take their first lead of the 2005 season.

Stewart started the drive with a two-yard loss at left end. Cooper Wallace then caught a pass for 11 and Cox followed big guard Tim Duckworth for two yards on a sneak.

Five plays later, on a second and six from the 33, the Tigers took the lead when Cox found tight end Cole Bennett alone inside the 10-yard line and he broke a tackle and ran over another Bulldog as he cross the goal line with 6:56 left in the first quarter.

"When you get that open you are thinking that you don't want to drop the ball," Bennett said with a big smile.

The Bulldogs then gave the Tigers a scare as talented kickoff returner Derek Pegues nearly tied the score and would have if kicker Zach Kutch, a defensive back in high school, hadn't made a tackle on the speedy freshman return man at the AU 41.

State moved the ball to a first down at the Auburn 10, but went the wrong direction from there. A false start penalty followed by a sack from Wayne Dickens for an eight-yard loss was followed by a nine-yard loss on intentional grounding as Gunn pressured Omarr Conner.

After a five-yard gain by Jerious Norwood on a running play, Keith Andrews hit the crossbar on a 48-yard field goal attempt with 4:06 left in the opening quarter. That was as close as the Bulldogs got to scoring.

Auburn went to work and drove 69 yards on 13 plays to make the score 14-0 with 13:04 left in the second quarter. Devin Aromashodu became the first Auburn receiver to make a catch when he hauled in a five-yard pass on third and goal from Cox, who hit the senior on this number with a slant pass over the middle.

The biggest play of the drive was a 19-yard run at left end by Stewart, who followed a nice block from Jake Slaughter and a good downfield block by Taylor.

At halftime, Auburn held a 206-88 advantage in total yardage and led 12-4 in the first downs.

The offense wasn't productive in the third quarter, but the defense stretched the lead to 21-0 when Will Herring recovered a fumble by Tee Milons as he tried to catch a short pass in the flat in front of the AU student section. Travis Williams set up the play by stripping the ball from the MSU receiver after a Kody Bliss punt backed up the Bulldogs to their own five.

The Auburn offense netted just 10 yards in the third period, but did better in the fourth quarter and scored another TD after committing its first turnover of the game when Kenny Irons lost a fumble at the MSU nine-yard line with 5:21 to play.

However, the Tigers got the ball back on a fumble by former Homewood High star, tailback Brandon Thornton, that was recovered by linebacker Courtney Harden at the MSU 30.

Lester ran the ball 22 yards at right end, got two up the middle and scored from six yards out to make the final 28-0 with 2:03 to play.

Brock led the Auburn tacklers with five solos and one assist while Herring had five solos, Patrick Lee had four solos and Travis Williams made three solo tackles with one assist. AU's defense substituted early and often and the Tigers also used more players on offense than they did in game one.

Stewart led the AU rushers with 38 yards on nine carries, Lester had 34 yards on six carries, Irons had 28 on 13 and Smith added seven yards on five runs. Smith suffered a knee injury that he tried to play on before calling it a day.

"I don't know how serious it is," Smith said. "I will find out on Sunday."

Bennett had two catches for 45 yards to lead the Tigers and fellow tight end Cooper Wallace made three catches for 21. Smith had one catch for 38 as did walk-on wide receiver Rodgeriqus Smith.

Freshman Robert Dunn, who played in the fourth quarter, caught his first college pass, a 23-yarder, and returned a punt 12 yards.

Another true freshman, Sen'Derrick Marks, made his college debut at tackle and saw extensive playing time with backup Neil Brown out with a sore neck. He was not credited with a tackle, but had a quarterback pressure. "I was worried with it being an SEC game going against those big 300 pounders, but once I got out there I found out I was going to be okay," he said.

The Tigers return to action next Saturday with a 1:30 p.m. home game vs. Ball State.

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