State took the 19-14 lead with 5:27 to play on a five-yard run by Christian Ducre. A two-point conversion pass failed. The drive was set up by Auburn's fifth turnover of the game, a pass by reserve quarterback Kodi Burns that was picked at the AU 44 as he tried to hit a bomb to freshman Chris Slaughter.
Auburn got the ball back at its own 24 after the kickoff and drove the ball on a do or die drive with Brandon Cox back at quarterback that ended on downs just inside the Mississippi 10-yard line.
Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said his team played hard, but noted five Tiger turnovers were a killer. "We kind of took a step back this week in terms of big plays," the coach said.
Auburn finished with 323 yards of total offense to 213 for State, but the visitors had just one turnover.
Smith said he felt he was held on the play, but said if no penalty was called it must not have been an infraction. The pass play, a double move by Smith, was designed to get the ball to the junior.
It was a nightmarish start for the Tigers. Even the defense, which had been reliable, had a lot to do with the Tigers falling behind 13-0.
The visitors wasted no time taking the lead as they took the opening kickoff after winning the toss and drove 65 yards on 12 plays before settling for a 32-yard field goal by Adam Carlson.
It immediately got worse for the Tigers. On the second play of Auburn's first possession, Cox's pass to tight end Cole Bennett bounced off the senior's hands into the waiting arms of Derek Pegues, who had no opposition on his 20-yard return for a score.
While the first interception wasn't Cox's fault, the second one was. That got him the hook from Al Borges and Tommy Tuberville.
A 40-yard Mario Fannin kickoff return had given the Tigers excellent field position a the MSU 47, but on third and six Cox looked to hit Montez Billings on a sideline route, but instead hit defensive back Anthony Johnson, who returned the pick eight yards.
The Auburn defense finally put together a three-and-out stop against the Bulldogs, who were led by freshman quarterback Wesley Carroll, who was filling in for Michael Henig who suffered a broken bone in his throwing hand.
On the next series, to the cheers of the crowd, the Tigers went to their own true freshman QB as Kodi Burns made his collegiate debut with a draw play from the shotgun formation for two yards.
Burns then ran for seven at left tackle and on third down Cox returned to the game. He handed off to Fannin for a 26-yard gain and Burns returned to finish the drive.
The freshman ran for nine yards, Fannin got one, Burns got two and then was sacked and fumbled on third and seven giving the Bulldogs possession at the own 33 as Jimmie Holmes got on the loose football.
The Auburn defense gang tackles running back Anthony Dixon, who rushed for 103 yards on 29 carries to spark the MSU offense.
State cashed that turnover in for three points as Carlson hit a 30-yard field goal with 12:27 left in the second quarter at the end of a drive that covered 54 yards in 12 plays.
Burns was back on the field for the next possession. The Tigers managed a first down before Patrick Tatum punted the Bulldogs deep into their own territory on a high kick that forced the visitors to start at their own 13.
It took the Tigers just five plays, all runs, to score.
Ben Tate started the drive with a four-yard run and then gained one before Burns raced for 13 yards on a bootleg at right end.
Burns ran for eight yards to the Mississippi State 28 before Tate took it the distance, breaking tackles along the way before powering in for the score just inside the left pylon. After the PAT kick by Wes Byrum, the Tigers trailed 13-7 with 4:18 to play in the first half.
The Tigers moved to the end zone on seven running plays. Burns scored on a sneak at right guard with 30 seconds left in the half after it appeared he had put the ball across the goal line on the he previous play, a six-yard run.
The Tigers got the ball to start the third quarter and moved deep into MSU territory before Fannin lost a fumble at the 19-yard line. However, the defense looked sharper and forced a quick three and out. The Tigers got the ball at their own 46 following a 30-yard punt that sailed out of bounds.
The Tigers couldn't take advantage of the good field position. Tight end Gabe McKenzie couldn't make a tough catch on second down and tight end Tommy Trott dropped a perfectly thrown pass that would have not only converted the third down, it was headed for big yardage.
Neither team scored in the third quarter.
A 73-yard punt that changed the field position in the fourth quarter was huge. It backed Auburn up to its 11.
"The punt at the end, it changed the field position, it was a critical play," MSU's Sylvester Croom said. "Our defense just made plays and I couldn't be more proud of them. The defense played start to finish and one play at a time. We played physical football for 60 minutes. We felt like if we could do that we would have a chance to win."
Two plays later Burns tried to hit a deep pass to freshman split end Chris Slaughter, but the ball was short and picked, giving the Bulldogs great field position at the Auburn 44.
State ran the ball right at the Tigers, scoring on the 10th play of the possession with 5:27 left on a five-yard run at right guard by Christian Ducre on third and goal.
While Auburn used two QBs, State used three after starter Michael Henig was injured in the first quarter. The trio combined for just 41 passing yards hitting 5-18 passes, but did just enough to pull out a win on a day in which the Auburn offense struggled again.
Although the Auburn defense allowed just 213 net yards, linebacker Chris Evans said the Tigers' defense was just as much to blame. "We had the lead in the fourth quarter and we couldn't hold it," he said.
The Tigers leave the SEC for a week as New Mexico State makes the trip from Las Cruces for a 6 p.m. kickoff at Jordan-Hare Stadium.