One thing Nowland had yet to accomplish was winning a game in Starkville against the Mississippi State Bulldogs. That might not seem that unusual because most players usually only get to visit a school twice during their college careers, but that's not the case with Nowland.
After being forced into action as a true freshman in 1998 when a rash of injuries at the center position left the Tigers in a bad enough situation to take the redshirt off the true freshman from St. Augustine, Fla., Nowland later received a medical redshirt because of a broken bone in his foot. However, before that happened he was part of one of the worst losses in a tough season when the Tigers fell 38-21 to the Bulldogs on the way to a 3-8 record. Nowland was back on the field in Starkville two seasons later when the undefeated Tigers rolled into town only to be frustrated by the MSU defense and fall 17-10.
Ben Nowland snaps the ball to Daniel Cobb during Thursday's win over Mississippi State.
This season would prove to be different. After struggling to open up the offense, Nowland and the Auburn offense got rolling in the second quarter. After a brief stall in the third period, they took over the game in the final period, outscoring the Bulldogs 21-0 to cruise to a 42-14 victory. For the first time in Nowland's career the Tigers had gone to Starkville and beat the Bulldogs at their own game. Auburn was the more physical team.
"It's huge," Nowland says. "But the defense had a lot to do with that. Creating six turnovers, they got us three the second half, they put us in a position to score and really take over that game. We kind of fumbled around in the third quarter, but really turned it on in the fourth. It's nice to go out there and do that, especially since I've been waiting a long time to do that to Mississippi State. Last year was the first year we had beat them in four years. That was my third time playing down there so it was great."
With new starters and old starters at new positions this fall, the front five for the Tigers has been a work in progress since the opener against USC. But steady improvement out of the group and the emergence of future stars Taylor Bourgeois and Marcus McNeill at the strong tackle position have given this team a new identity on offense. That became apparent as the offense never panicked Thursday night and eventually wore down the Bulldogs on the way to victory.
"We were talking about it and it seemed like the first and third quarters were the learning parts of the game for us," Nowland says. "We wanted to run some different plays coming out of the half so the third quarter we kind of used to establish what we were going to do or what we were seeing. In the fourth quarter we were able to put it into motion."
Next up for the Auburn offensive line is a Syracuse defense that, like Mississippi State, is built around blitzing the quarterback and stacking the line of scrimmage. Although they haven't been very successful to this point in losses to BYU and North Carolina, this is a team that was in the same situation last season and handed Auburn a 31-14 loss in the Carrier Dome. Nowland doesn't plan to forget.
"I got hurt last year against them so this will be a huge game for me and for the team," he notes. "We want to go out and win all of our conference games to get back to Atlanta, but winning the non-conference games will help us in the BCS and things like that. We don't want to lose any games, especially playing at home. That's huge for us. We want to get that streak back going. We're 2-0 now and we want to continue that."