Unlike four of the five previous meetings, this time around it was the Tigers that demonstrated that dominance, and in punishing fashion. Rushing for 207 yards while holding the Bulldogs to 91 on the ground, Auburn ended some frustration against the Bulldogs with a 42-14 win Thursday night. While the defense controlled things in its own right and forced five of the six MSU turnovers, it was the offense that grew up on this steamy Mississippi night.
"I'm really happy with the way they played," quarterback Daniel Cobb said of his offensive line. Marcus (McNeill) did some good things. Taylor (Bourgeois) came in towards the end of the third quarter at strong tackle and did some good things. I think as the game wore on those guys really started to dominate the line of scrimmage when we needed to. They did a good job of keeping them out on those touchdown passes, too, when they were bringing an extra guy. We had a couple of times when Mark Pera was blocking two guys at once, I think on two out of three touchdown passes. This is big for us."
The win up front may not have been possible without the play of Cobb. After starting a miserable 1-for-9 in the face of an all-out MSU blitz package from defensive coordinator Joe Lee Dunn, the senior finished the night 10-for-21 for 183 yards. More importantly, he had three touchdown passes, including a big 45-yard touchdown strike to freshman Ben Obomanu at the end of the first half that put the Tigers on the road to victory.
"The three touchdown passes were real critical," offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino said. "I never felt comfortable all night long with what they were doing on defense. They just kept mixing it up. They kept bringing guys from everywhere and we tried to establish the run.
"We were patient enough that we didn't go away from it, but the three big plays of the night were the touchdown to Anthony Mix, the touchdown to Marcel Willis and the touchdown to Ben. It was great to see. They (Mississippi State) are always going to cause some negative plays because of what they do on defense so you have to have those big plays to be able to win."
Wide receiver Marcel Willis drags a Bulldog into the end zone for Auburn's second score of the night.
While Mix, Obomanu, and Devin Aromashodu, who had a 27-yard catch to really begin the down-the-field passing game for the Tigers Thursday, received much of the attention in the post-game locker room area, the real star of the receiving corps continues to be the steady senior Willis. After being hampered all of last season with a high ankle sprain that never allowed him to run full speed, he has come back strong in his final season and has turned into the go-to guy for the Auburn passing attack.
"I think Marcel has done great the last two weeks," Petrino said. "On third down now, what you try to do on third down is try to find someone you feel comfortable with, that you know will get open and catch the ball. I'm starting to feel that way with Marcel and that's a good feeling for me because when you're calling plays you're always looking for someone you can rely on when it's a real important time in the game."
One of the more veteran players on the Auburn offense along with center Ben Nowland, Willis said he wasn't concerned about the slow start the Tigers got off to on Thursday. Seeing what was available down the field because of the blitzing style of defense the Bulldogs employ, he said he knew it was only a matter of time before they got things going.
"We knew at the beginning of practice that today was the day we had to step up because they play man coverage all game with no safety help sometime," Willis noted. "They said it was going to be a challenge for us and we had to step up and that's what we did. The first couple of passes were a little jittery, but after that Daniel came to me and said, ‘I'm going to get it together so make plays for me.' That's what we had to do."
Leading 21-7 at the half thanks to the three passes from Cobb, Auburn was looking good but an impressive drive to open the second half gave the Bulldogs a reason to believe they could win the game. But that wasn't to be as the Auburn offensive line sealed the deal with two long scoring drives, one covering 65 yards in eight plays capped by a nine-yard touchdown run by Carnell Williams with 10:44 to play in the game. Sensing that the game was Auburn's for the taking, junior offensive guard Monreko Crittenden said his unit went in for the kill and they succeeded, giving them confidence they can do it down the road.
"I knew we had it by the end of the third quarter," Crittenden noted. "They weren't really coming off real hard and we knew that we had them down. They couldn't seem to find a way to pick themselves up. They still played hard, but by the end of the third quarter we knew we had them. This was big because Mississippi State was a good team. To win by the margin we won by it gives us a lot of confidence and shows us we can do whatever we put our minds to and whatever we want to do."