The Auburn defense came up with five takeaways and the punt coverage team added one as the Tigers won for the first time in Starkville since pre-Tommy Tuberville in 1996.
"The pass rush was a big key for us," says Chizik, whose defense scored two touchdowns in last Saturday's victory over Vandy. "We knew that this was a game that we had to get a lot of pressure on their quarterback to be successful and that is what we did. I was really pleased with the push we got outside from the ends. That was big."
Auburn was credited with five sacks for 27 yards in losses in the game, but those statistics don't come close to telling the story. On a night when MSU quarterback Kevin Fant had the hot hand with some deadly accurate pinpoint passing, the Tigers needed to put a physical whipping on him to get the momentum changed and that is exactly what they did.
Reggie Torbor (82) and Karlos Dansby had big games for the Auburn defense causing turnovers.
"Even when we didn't sack him, we got to him a lot in this game," said junior Reggie Torbor, who was welcomed back with open arms by his teammates after sitting out two games with an ankle injury. Although Tommy Tuberville said that Torbor was only 80 percent of full speed, the head coach noted that Auburn's only experienced defensive end was a difference-maker. Torbor's position coach, Terry Price, agreed.
"It sure is nice to have Reggie back out there," Price said. "He really made a difference. He was a real leader out there. I am proud of him and the defensive ends got the push on the quarterback that we have needed all season. Now, we have to keep that up."
An emotional Auburn team celebrated long and hard in their postgame locker room as they improved their record to 3-1 overall and more importantly, 2-0 in the SEC.
Junior defensive tackle DeMarco McNeil said, "We feel absolutely great. We were having a lot of fun out there on defense. We really got after them and it was like a domino effect. The more good plays we made, the more aggressive we became.
"Before the game we set a goal of getting five turnovers and we got that plus one more," said McNeil. "That was big."
MSU quarterback Kevin Fant agreed. "Turnovers kill you, especially when you play a good team like Auburn," he said.
Auburn moved the ball better early in the game, but it was the Bulldogs who put together the first scoring drive. With Fant throwing beautiful touch passes, the Bulldogs marched 76 yards on eight plays. Tailback Dontae Walker scored from inside the one yard line with 2:51 left in the first quarter. Bulldog star wide receiver Ray Ray Bivines said, "After our first touchdown, everyone was in the game. After our turnovers though, we just lost our momentum."
Both teams then had possessions with one first down followed by punts. Auburn tied the game on its first opportunity of the second quarter.
Carnell Williams did much of the damage on runs straight at the Bulldog defense that sometimes featured three down linemen and five linebackers. Cobb, who was just one of nine passing the first quarter, hit a third and 12 pass to freshman Anthony Mix in the end zone and he made the catch despite a pass interference call on the home team. Damon Duval tied the contest with 9:49 left in the first half.
Mississippi State committed a pair of second quarter turnovers after the score was tied at 7-7. The first, an interception by Horace Willis at the Auburn 12 helped set up the second turnover. After the Tigers moved to midfield with the help of a 27-yard pass to Devin Aromashodu, they were forced to punt. Duval's kick had back spin and bounced off the foot of return man Richard Ball. Lamel Ages picked up the ball and Auburn took it to the end zone, but could not advance the muff and got the ball at the Bulldog 13.
After an illegal procedure penalty induced by noise, the Tigers got one yard on a run by Williams and then Cobb threw incomplete in the end zone to Jeris McIntyre. On third down, he threw a quicker developing slant route to Marcel Willis, who caught the ball on the run and bulled his way into the end zone. That made the scorer 14-7 with 4:07 left in the half. "I guess I carried that guy on my back for about five yards," a smiling Willis said in the Auburn locker room. "I might have surprised them with that one."
The Tigers got a third turnover in the second quarter when Mayo Sowell knocked the ball loose from Fant when the QB scrambled out of the pocket and Roderick Hood recovered at the AU 39 with 2:33 left. However, the Tigers went three and out with one Carnell "Cadillac" Williams run and two incomplete passes. Duval nearly punted the Bulldogs on their own one, but the play was ruled a touchback.
The field position was important though. Very, very important. A sack by Spencer Johnson on first down from the 20 put the Bulldogs on their heels and with a second down and 19 at the 11. Auburn got the ball back after two more plays with two timeouts left and good field position after Hood returned a line drive punt 13 yards to the MSU 47.
On first down, Cobb looked short, throwing to his big freshman, hitting Mix for two yards. He got out of bounds and the Tigers still had two timeouts left, but wouldn't need them after Cobb looked long and threw perhaps his finest pass as an Auburn Tiger. State tried to cover Ben Obomanu man to man and the freshman made that look rather silly by running right by the defender to hook up on a 45-yard TD pass down the right sideline. The drive, which took just 14 seconds, ended with 14 seconds left in the half and silenced what had been a boisterous MSU crowd.
Tuberville said that sequence was the turning point of the game. "It is hard to come back from two touchdowns down," he said.
At the break the Tigers had 207 yards, with 132 on the ground as Cobb rallied from his slow start to go 7-18 with no interceptions after two quarters. The Bulldogs moved the ball well, too, with 180 yards on 34 snaps, four less plays than the Tigers. The Bulldogs did most of their first half damage in the air with 153 yards with Fant 12-20 with one interception.
The Bulldogs got the ball to start the third quarter and put together a strong 16-play drive to cut the gap to 21-14. They moved 65 yards after Duval's kickoff sailed out of bounds. Walker scored inside from a yard out with 8:29 left in the period. The big plays were third down passes by Fant and a bootleg run by the QB on fourth down.
The Tigers couldn't match the MSU score and punted the ball away after picking up one first down.
After struggling for just 17 net yards in the third quarter, the Tigers put together a big drive when they really needed it, moving 67 yards on eight plays to stretch the lead back to 14 points. Williams scored on a nine-yard run with 10:44 left.
A sack by Torbor on Mississippi State's next play gave the Tigers possession at the 17 after the defensive end also recovered the fumble. Cadillac ran eight, four and then five yards for the touchdown to stretch the lead to 35-14.
Karlos Dansby, Mr. Turnover himself, set up the next score by knocking the ball loose on a pass completion allowing Dontarrious Thomas to recover at midfield. The Tigers then rammed the ball down MSU's throat on a nine-play scoring drive with fullback Brandon Johnson getting the touchdown from a yard out to make it 42-14.
Tuberville had some mercy, but not much, when the Tigers bypassed the chance to score again after MSU freshman Kyle York was intercepted by Auburn freshman linebacker Travis Williams with 2:20 left.
Turning Point: Freshman Ben Obomanu's TD reception with 14 seconds left in the half put the Bulldogs down by two TDs and the home team could not catch Auburn after that.
Play Of the Game: Reggie Torbor personally sacking Kevin Fant and recovering the fumble to set up an insurance TD was almost as impressive as Dansby's TD play a week earlier.
Injury Report: DT Spencer Johnson suffered a sprained ankle. Daniel Cobb left the game briefly with a bruised shoulder.
The Bob Uecker Seats: The seating location for the Auburn University band that made the trip to Starkville was in the upper deck.
Quote of The Night: "We busted our butts this week to get ready for this game," said Dontarrious Thomas. "It meant a lot to us."
The Tigers return to action at home a week from Saturday with an 8 p.m. game vs. Syracuse.