On Saturday night at Jordan-Hare Stadium in the SEC opener for both teams, the Tigers rushed for 390 yards on the way to a 49-24 victory over Mississippi State in the SEC head coaching debuts for Auburn's Gene Chizik and Mississippi State's Dan Mullen.
Chizik watched a pair of Tiger running backs make history as Ben Tate rushed for 157 yards and Onterio McCalebb added 114. It was the first time in Auburn's storied running back history that for two games in a row the Tigers had two runners gain more than 100 yards on the ground.
More history was made as it was the first game in which Auburn had two backs rush for 100 yards with another player gaining more than 100 as a receiver. Sophomore Darvin Adams caught five passes for 116 yards as the Tigers totaled 199 through the air.
Kodi Burns was Mr. Touchdown on Saturday night as he rushed for three scores out of the wildcat formation and passed for another one to freshman Philip Lutzenkirchen. Burns rushed nine times for 32 yards and and hit his only pass for 13 yards and won praise from offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn for his ability to get the tough yards near the goal line.
The passing game was solid, but the running game was the star of the show as Auburn finished the night with 390 net yards, up from an opening night total of 301 yards.
Auburn's 49 points were the most for the Tigers in an SEC game since hitting that same total vs. Kentucky in 2005.
Chizik said he saw a lot to like, but was disappointed with the kicking game. The Tigers had a punt blocked for a score, fumbled a punt and slacked off on their kickoff coverage after a good start. The coach promised the Tigers would address those issues prior to next week's game vs. West Virginia.
"It is a typical SEC deal," Chizik said of his team's comeback victory in which Auburn led 14-0 before giving up 17 unanswered points. "It goes back and forth and back and forth. We played with a lot of energy. I thought we answered the bell quite a few times when some adversity hit our team. I am really proud of the way our players responded to a lot of negative things that happened tonight.
"We didn't play perfect," Chizik said. "It was one of those games, but when you play in this league and you play good football teams--I think Dan Mullen has done a good job with that football team offensively. They have a great scheme. They move the ball. They have good players.
"Defensively, they rallied and they made it really tough on us tonight," Chizik added. "That is a good team, but we are just proud that we came out with a win. Again in the game of trying to get better every week, we certainly have a long way to go before we are where we want to be. I am happy to get the win."
MSU's Mullen had a lot more to be concerned about as his team was torched for 589 total yards while gaining just 297.
"I am disappointed in the coaching staff, especially myself tonight, not putting our players in better positions to be successful," Mullen said. "Obviously, it was completely unacceptable to give up over 300 rushing yards. That is not Mississippi State defense."
Onterio McCalebb (23) celebrates his touchdown run with center Ryan Pugh.
In the Auburn locker room, both of the 100-yard rushers were singing the praises of the guys in the trenches. "The offensive line is playing great with the whole blocking scheme," Tate said.
McCalebb said, "I give all of the credit to the offensive line. If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be able to get a single yard. They hit all of their blocks for me and I was able to get down the field."
The Tigers moved the ball well after winning the toss, but stalled at the MSU 39 and AU's punt bounced into the end zone.
After a three-and-out for the Mississippi State offense, the Tigers went to work and didn't take long to put the football in the end zone.
Wes Byrum's deflected PAT kick went through the uprights with 8:13 left in the opening period.
The Tigers moved the ball 73 yards on eight plays for the score. The big plays on the drive were passes of 17 and 30 yards from Chris Todd to Adams. Burns covered the final 10 yards with keepers of seven yards, two yards and the score from a yard out.
The defense scored its first touchdown of the season after the teams exchanged punts. Auburn's punt by Durst backed up the Bulldogs to their own one. After a first down, State turned the ball over when Chris Relf's third down pass was picked off by defensive end Antonio Coleman, who dropped into coverage with the Tigers in a blitz.
Coleman raced down the right sideline and just got inside the pylon for a score that put the Tigers on top 14-0 with 2:21 left in the first quarter.
"It came from a lot of hard work and believing in my coach," Coleman said. "Coach (Tracy) Rocker told me his defensive line gets one a year everywhere he coaches. I just dropped back and read the quarterback."
The Bulldogs were dominated early, but made a good comeback with an assist by the Tigers who kept a drive alive with a facemask penalty. Mississippi State took advantage of the penalty and methodically drove 83 yards on 12 plays.
The officials ruled the Bulldogs scored on the 10th play of the possession, but Anthony Dixon's knee was ruled down inside the one after the play was reviewed. Two plays later, on fourth and goal, he scored at left guard from a wishbone formation.
Dixon led the MSU rushing game with 92 yards on 20 carries in his first game back from suspension.
State cut the gap to 17-10 on a 29-yard field goal by Sean Brauchle with 7:20 left in the half.
The momentum switch accelerated with a blocked punt and a 10-yard return by Robert Elliott against Auburn's spread punt formation. That put the Bulldogs up 17-14 with 4:44 left in the half.
Auburn reversed the momentum with a quick scoring drive by moving 80 yards on five plays. Tate got it started with runs of 17, six and five yards. McCalebb then ran for four at right end.
On the next play Todd ran an option play to the left. He had room to run, but his late pitch to McCalebb was a better idea. The speedy freshman turned on the jets, made a cutback move in front of the Auburn student section and was untouched on the 48-yard touchdown play. That put the Tigers up 21-17 with 3:08 left in the half, but the Tigers weren't done yet.
"I knew Chris was going to pitch me the ball," McCalebb said even though it looked like the QB was going to keep it himself. "Maybe I should have pitched it earlier, but it worked out okay," Todd said.
After holding the Bulldogs to a three-and-out while using two timeouts, the Tigers took over at their own 22 with 1:29 left in the half and one timeout. It took Malzahn's offense eight plays to cover 78 yards to move on top 28-17.
Burns scored from a yard out at right end on a keeper with 16 seconds left and no timeouts remaining. Big plays on the drive were passes of 21, 28 and 20 yards to Adams. The third one to Adams was a trick play in which tackle Lee Ziemba lined up like he was a receiver who was going to get a pass in the flat. That froze the MSU secondary allowing Adams to catch a pass at the one-yard line.
Malzahn would not reveal the name of the play, but admitted he liked it and noted that Ziemba did a good job of selling the fake by waving his arms like he was trying to attract Todd's attention.
At intermission Auburn had 314 yards of offense with 185 rushing and 129 through the air. The Bulldogs had 171 with 120 rushing and 51 passing.
The Tigers adding breathing room late in the third quarter as Burns threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to freshman tight end Lutzenkirchen, who had slipped undetected behind the Bulldogs' defense. The touchdown with 3:52 on the clock put the Tigers up 35-17.
"I was so open I was just thinking don't drop the football," Lutzenkirchen. "It is a great feeling getting my first college touchdown. I am excited about playing in the offense. There is a lot more to it than what we have shown."
Kodi Burns rushed for three scores and passed for one vs. MSU.
Auburn stretched the lead to 42-17 on a 35-yard run by Tate at right end in which the senior outran the MSU defense to the corner and then hit the jets. That capped a four-play, 72-yard drive with 1:19 left in the third quarter.
Christian Ducre caught a one-yard TD pass for the Bulldogs in the fourth quarter, but Auburn matched that score with a one-yard run by Burns with 5:56 to play. After that the subs saw action for Chizik's team.
Todd finished the gamehitting 10-23 passes for 186 yards. Playing H-back and tailback, Mario Fannin had ninecarries for 75 yards.
Safety Zac Etheridge led the Tigers in tackles with six solos and two assists. Josh Bynes added two solos with six assists while Neik Thorpe had four solos and three assists.
Linebacker Craig Stevens made four solos with three assists includding two for negative four yards. Redshirt sophomore Eltoro Freeman, who missed the opener with a hamstring problem, made two solos and four assists in his Auburn debut as a backup to Adam Herring.
Zach Smith led MSU in tackles with six solos and two assists.