Defense to the Rescue in 3-2 Auburn Win

Auburn opened SEC with a strange one-point win in Starkville.

Starkville, Miss.--Paul Rhoads was beaming, Tony Franklin was disgusted and Tommy Tuberville was relieved in the Auburn locker room Saturday night as the Tigers escaped Davis Wade Stadium with an unlikely 3-2 football victory.

On a night when the offense did little right, junior Ben Tate's 39-yard run at left tackle on third and eight from the Auburn 20 with 2:06 left iced the victory as Auburn improved to 3-0 overall and 1-0 in the SEC.

"I was glad we finally contributed, but the sad part for us was the defense was just playing phenomenal and we just didn't contribute," offensive coordinator Franklin said.

Rhoads, the defensive coordinator, said, "I really liked the effort. Our guys made a lot of plays throughout the game. I was proud of how they played."

Rhoads also played the diplomat after the game. "The offense making that big run late in the game sealed it and was as big a play as we had all night," he noted.

Head coach Tuberville said he had never been involved in a 3-2 game. No other Auburn head coach had either with that particular score a first in Auburn history.

"I am an old defensive coach so I was liking it a little bit, but I wish we had scored a few more points," Tuberville said. "We just wasted a few opportunities."

How good was Auburn's defense on windy Saturday night in Starkville. Consider the numbers.

The home team managed just 30 net yards rushing at an average of 1.3 yards per carry.

The home team passed for just 78 yards, completing only 10-25 passes with one interception late in the contest by cornerback Walter McFadden, who should be credited with a save for helping the Tigers take the victory with a baseball-like score.

As impressive as the rushing defense and passing defense was, the Tigers were even better in clutch situations. The Bulldogs were 0-14 on third downs and 0-3 on fourth downs.

"We just went out there with the mindset we were going to get it done," said Auburn junior linebacker Tray Blackmon, one of a large group of defenders who bailed out the offense with a terrific performance.

"Every time it kind of got easier and easier," he added. "I was kind of looking forward to going out there on defense because it gave us another chance to put it on us. We had the momentum going our way."

Paul Rhoads celebrates with Auburn's defensive players.

The Tigers managed 315 yards of offense to 116 for the Bulldogs, but the Tigers didn't perform well in the red zone and hurt themselves with three lost fumbles.

Todd hit 14-26 passes for 154 yards and Tate rushed 20 times for 92 yards.

Brad Lester, who was carried off the field on a stretcher, should be able to play next week, Tuberville said, noting the senior who rushed for 51 yards on nine carries has a neck sprain.

After a scoreless first quarter with neither team moving the football consistently, the Tigers ended the scoring drought in the second quarter by moving 39 yards on eight plays. Wes Byrum's 35-yard field goal into the stiff wind put the Tigers up 3-0 with 7:38 left in the second quarter. Little did many of the 52,911 fans watching the game suspect that would be the only offensive points of the night.

The only other scoring opportunty of the opening half came on Auburn's final possession of the period. The Tigers took over at their own 28-yard line after a 31-yard punt by the Bulldogs sailed out of bounds. Lester ran for 10 yards to get the possession started.

Chris Todd's 29-yard post route pass over the middle to Quindarus Carr moved the ball to the MSU 29. However, the Tigers couldn't make another first down and had to settle for a 42-yard field goal by Byrum that was wide left with 19 seconds left in the half.

Both teams missed field goal opportunities in the third quarter. State's Adam Carlson wasn't close on a 38-yarder after a low snap messed up the timing less than three minutes into the half after an Auburn fumble.

Byrum missed a chip shot field goal wide with 5:36 left in the third quarter after Auburn got to second and goal at the two and went backward to the five on two running plays by Tate.

Mississippi State's only points came with 7:56 left in the final quarter when center Ryan Pugh was called for holding in the end zone, an automatic safety that gave the Bulldogs two points.Pugh noted it was the defensive who was holding him with a grip on his facemask, but like most of the calls on Saturday night it went against the visitors.

Despite the offense playing nervously the rest of the way and not making a big play until the final minutes, the defense came through time and time again.

One of the biggest plays came immediately after the safety after a poor Byrum kickoff gave the Bulldogs the football at midfield after it sailed out of bounds. On fourth and inches just outside the 40, running back Christian Ducre was nailed by Blackmon behind the line of scrimmage.

The Tigers also made a fourth and 15 stop on the next series after Tate fumbled the ball at the Auburn 47.

Last, but not least, following a fumble by Tristan Davis on a pitch from Todd, on the next play from the MSU 34 McFadden made his interception on a bomb at the AU 18 as he managed to stay in bounds and hold onto the football for perhaps the most impressive play of the night. Fittingly, it was by a member of the Auburn defense.

Auburn returns to action next Saturday at home with a 6:45 p.m. contest vs. LSU.

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