Starkville, Miss.--It wasn't a perfect football game from a defensive standpoint but it was darn close. Facing one of the country's worst offensive units, the Auburn Tigers did what they were supposed to by stuffing the Bulldogs all day long in a 34-0 rout Saturday.
Despite playing everyone on the travel roster on that side of the ball, the Tigers allowed just 161 yards of total offense in a 34-0 shutout of Mississippi State on the road. Coach Will Muschamp says he was pleased with the play of the defense overall and glad the shutout came with it.
"I think it's more important to play well," Muschamp says. "Any time you get a shutout in this league you've accomplished something. Mississippi State is struggling a little bit on offense. They lost their starting quarterback. Our kids played well. They came out and executed. We played the run decently well for the most part. We made some big turnovers down on the goal line and the one turnover on the drive they had going. Any time you get a shutout you've accomplished something."
The turnovers proved to be huge and allowed Auburn to coast to victory after a sluggish start on both sides of the ball. The first came moments after the Tigers' wide receiver Rodgeriqus Smith fumbled after a throw from Brandon Cox deep in MSU territory. The Bulldogs returned the favor by coughing up the ball at their two-yard line to set up Auburn's second touchdown of the day. Two more turnovers sealed the deal on the Bulldogs and Muschamp was glad of that.
"Any time we get a turnover no matter who it is I'm happy," Muschamp says. "We were able to get that turnover when they were driving the ball. They had a little momentum. It was 14-0 and could have been a touchdown game. It was good to get that turnover."
Early on the Tigers substituted liberally at the linebacker positions with Craig Stevens and Patrick Trahan both seeing time in the first half to get their feet wet in SEC play. Muschamp says it's important for those guys to get a feel for the actual game rather than hitting their teammates in practice over and over again.
"You've got to get those guys game ready," Muschamp says. "You just can't count the fact that guys are going to play for you all the time. We wanted to put those guys in situations when it's a competitive game. We wanted to last week but we never got the opportunity because of the personnel groupings Washington State game us. This week we knew it would happen. Those guys were ready to play and for the most part they did pretty well.
"It's always good to play as many guys as you can," Muschamp adds. "We always try to rotate as many guys as possible. You always have to have guys game ready in this league because of the injuries and situations you go through. It was good to get those guys out there."
Jermarcus Ricks rumbles towards the end zone on Saturday.
The rotation continued up front on the defensive line as well as in the secondary. On the back end Lorenzo Ferguson had his best career day as a Tiger with two big hits and also a pass break-up. Up front Jermarcus Ricks stole the show despite playing very little. In fact on his first career play Ricks scooped up a fumble and returned it 31 yards to the MSU two-yard line before being tackled. Muschamp says that Ricks has a chance to be a good player and it was important to get him in some game action this week.
"It's good to get him in there playing," Muschamp says. "He's a good kid. We've got a 14-game schedule and we're in a situation where you've got to play a lot of people. He needs to play and play well for us. He's going to be a good one. He's a little more mature than some of the other guys. We've got a lot of good young D-Linemen and he's really progressed well."
Senior linebacker Karibi Dede led the Tigers with six tackles on the day while Stevens added five stops on the day. Sen'Derrick Marks also had another active day with three tackles, a forced fumble and a sack. On the day the Tigers had four sacks and seven tackles for losses to stifle the Mississippi State attack.