Tigers Tune Up For LSU With Shutout Victory

Starkville, Miss.--Mississippi State won some respect on Saturday, but not much else as the fourth-ranked Auburn Tigers methodically overpowered the Bulldogs 34-0 on Saturday in the SEC opener for the Tigers.

Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville, offensive coordinator Al Borges, offensive line coach Hugh Nall and senior offensive linemen Timmy Duckworth, Joe Cope and Ben Grubbs all praised Mississippi State's defensive front's talent and hustle.

The Bulldogs held Auburn's offense to 111 net rushing yards, but quarterback Brandon Cox was more than able to take up the slack. The lefty was sharp as he completed 18-27 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns before letting backup Blake Field finish with some fourth quarter mop-up duty.

Auburn outgained the home team 388-161 in total yards as the defense produced a shutout just two games into the Will Muschamp Era as Auburn's defensive coordinator. The Tigers also shut out Mississippi State last year by a 28-0.

"It is hard in this conference to get a shutout," Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville said. "We turned the ball over and gave them an opportunity. I liked the way our defense stepped up."

Soon after the victory, talk inside and outside the Auburn locker room at Davis Wade Stadium had already turned to next Saturday's SEC West showdown next Saturday.

"The LSU game is going to be exciting," said senior wide receiver Courtney Taylor, who had a career-high nine catches against the Bulldogs. He finished the game with 103 receiving yards.

Tuberville noted that he started thinking about LSU when Auburn took a 14-0 lead on the Bulldogs in the second quarter.

"I was just proud of everybody who played," Tuberville said. "I think we got a little bit better. Are we good enough yet to play this one next week? We'll find out."

Cox wasn't sharp with his pass in the opener vs. Washington State, but was on target vs. the Bulldogs. "Brandon played good," Tuberville said. "We gave him an opportunity to open up a little bit, but not as much. After we got a good lead we didn't want to chance him taking a shoulder lick or whatever. I thought he looked pretty good.

"We are going to have to do some different things next week," the coach added. "We won't be able to play the same type of ball we've been playing the past two weeks, but we've been working on that. We have been doing things in practice that we hadn't done, not that we were getting ready for LSU.

"We knew we had to prove one point before we could get to another point. I think we proved that we are playing physical ball on both sides. The kicking game is solid. Now we can continue to add things and start running them in a game."

Auburn was solid across the board on Saturday, including the kicking game. John Vaughn was 2-2 on field goals, including a personal-record 55-yarder. Kody Bliss averaged 47.5 yards on four punts. Matt Clark had a touchback on every kickoff other than the one to open the game. "That one looked like me kicking," Tuberville joked.

However, there was no joking about game three with LSU coming to Jordan-Hare Stadium for a nationally televised game next Saturday. "Usually the team that wins this one goes to Atlanta," Tuberville pointed out. "We have a lot of work to do between now and then."

Defensively, cornerback David Irons was beaming after the game after he got his first interception at AU and Karibi Dede led the Tigers with eight tackles, including six solos. "It's about time I got one," Irons said.

Brad Lester was the most effective runner, carrying the ball five times for 41 yards and a TD. He also caught a 12-yard pass while Kenny Irons was limited to 69 yards on 21 carries. Irons didn't have his normal quickness and after the game he admitted he was less than full speed because of a groin pull problem.

Commenting on the offense, Tuberville said, "Our offensive line was our concern against a very good defensive line. I thought we held our own. We kept getting closer and closer to breaking one. Kenny didn't have his best day, but I am sure that was their game plan to make sure he didn't have his best day.

"We got a little hard-headed in the first half and kept running it instead of passing it," the coach said. "They were giving us some throws, but we felt like we wanted to be more physical and prove a point. I think it worked out well for us.

"Defensively, we swarmed well. We didn't tackle as well as we should on the run. That was a concern. Overall it was good."

Auburn scored on its third possession after a three-and-out to open the game and a drive that stalled in MSU territory forcing a punt. The following punt set up the field position that led to Auburn's short scoring drive.

Redshirt freshman tight end Gabe McKenzie caught his first college reception for a touchdown on second and goal from six yards out on a bootleg pass from Cox. That came with 1:07 left in the first quarter to cap a 34-yard drive following a 13-yard punt return by Robert Dunn.

The second score came after a pair of turnovers. The first was on a pass from Cox to Rodgeriqus Smith, who caught a deep pass over the middle on the stride on Auburn's first play after the touchdown. However, he fumbled the football in front of the goal line. "I learned a valuable lesson," he said after the game. "I need to tuck the ball away. I never saw the guy coming."

Trailing on the play, tight end Cole Bennett tried to cover the football at the MSU one. However, he couldn't control it and MSU took over at its own one on a play that was reviewed by the officials. The original call, MSU ball, stood.

After a four-yard run to the five and followed by a one-yard rush, Auburn got the ball back at the Mississippi State one when defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks hit quarterback Tray Rutland, causing a fumble that Karibi Dede fell on at the one.

Karibi Dede comes up with the turnover.

Brad Lester, in for the first time, was stuffed for a yard loss trying to run up the middle. On second down, he ran at left tackle, cut outside and used his speed to race untouched into the end zone. John Vaughn's kick stretched the lead to 14-0 with 11:35 left in the half.

Auburn added three more points to close the second quarter after David Irons got his first Auburn interception at the AU 27 with 1:31 on the clock and two timeouts for the Tigers.

After runs for three and nine yards by Kenny Irons, Cox hit Lee Guess for eight yards and Taylor caught passes for three and 14 yards to move the Tigers to MSU 34.

AU tried to surprise the home team with a draw play, but Tre Smith was trapped for a two-yard loss forcing the Tigers to use their final timeout. Cox then passed to Smith for five yards and then spiked the football to stop the clock for a John Vaughn field goal attempt.

A delay of game penalty negated the first kick, which fell short. However, Vaughn drilled the do-over from five yards farther, setting a personal record from 55 yards after extra long kicker Matt Clark ran on to the field, but was sent back to the sideline to let Vaughn go for the long one. Vaughn told Tuberville that he had mis-hit the first one and had the leg to make the 55-yarder and was good on his word.

The Tigers got the second half kickoff and didn't waste any time putting the ball in the end zone for their third TD. With a good kickoff return by Tristan Davis plus a 15-yard late hit penalty, Auburn started the the MSU 48.

It took just five plays to make the score 24-0 as Brad Lester broke three tackles on a sweep of right end on his way to the touchdown with 13:13 left in the third quarter.

The Tigers stretched the lead to 31-0 later in the period with a 79-yard drive that featured 13 plays. Wide receiver Smith, who came close to a TD earlier in the game, held on all the way to the end zone as he was untouched when Cox checked a play at the line of scrimmage and zipped a short pass in the flat to the sophomore. "That felt great to get my first (college) touchdown," he said.

Mississippi State got a big break on the final play of the third period when Dunn fumbled a punt, giving the Bulldogs possession at the AU 36. That was the only major flaw in Auburn's kicking game all day.

The Bulldogs made a first down, but stalled at the 20-yard line. However, it was close but no cigar for the home team as Marquies Gunn blocked a 37-yard field goal attempt with 12:03 left in the game.

Auburn added its final three points after true freshman defensive tackle Jermarcus Ricks, in for the first time in college, picked up a fumble by MSU's quarterback on a hit by Pat Sims. Ricks grabbed the football and rumbled 31 yards to the MSU four.

With subs in the game, Auburn couldn't punch the ball in for a TD. Freshman tailback Ben Tate was stuffed twice and a Blake Field pass to Carl Stewart lost a yard so Vaughn was called on to kick a 22-yard field goal with 3:49 to end the scoring at 34-0.


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