Tigers Make Early Lead Last In 17-14 Win

Dan Mullen knew very well what he was doing when the Mississippi State coach invested so much first-year effort into recruiting Cameron Newton. And after watching the quarterback in action, in an Auburn uniform, Bulldog fans understand too. The Tiger triggerman is the real deal, making the biggest first-half plays for a three-score lead that held up in a 17-14 Auburn victory.

Newton, who Mississippi State coach Mullen successfully signed as an assistant at Florida the first time, lived up to billing with a splendid SEC debut. He led the Tigers (2-0, 1-1 SEC) in rushing with 70 yards; and completed 11 of 19 passes for 136 yards and both Auburn touchdowns. What was more to the point, Newton dominated the first two quarters for 142 of those net yards and directed all the scoring drives his team would need.

Mississippi State by painful contrast didn't produce a whole lot more yards collectively, 246, than that one top cat. A week after ringing up the sixth-most offense in program history, the Bulldogs struggled against a better grade of defense…and even more so against their own self-inflicted problems. Auburn scored tent points after two MSU turnovers in the second quarter for just a little more deficit than could be overcome, even when the Tigers were kept in second-half check.

Auburn won the toss and chose first turn with the ball, a wise decision it turned out. State blitzed both first plays and Newton made them pay with a 13-yard completion and five-yard run. The drive seemed about to stall with 4th-and-1 on the Tiger 46 but Auburn didn't hesitate. Newton began to throw, tucked and juked to the MSU 41-yard line. Three snaps later on 3rd-and-8 he had time to find Emory Blake floating out to the left flat for the catch. Blake was able to get outside of both State safeties and was gone down the sideline for the touchdown at 11:22.

A hold on the kickoff return started State from the 28-yard line. WR Chad Bumphis got a drive going with a reverse-run and a reception. Relf then kept around right end for a dozen yards, and found Leon Berry on a come-back for 17 more to the Tiger 41. That was as far as this first chance got. On 3rd-and-13 Relf's throw was a bit long of Berry, who'd been hung-up by cornerback contact a few yards upfield. Heath Hutchins dropped his punt on the four-yard line.

Three rushes gave Tiger punter Ryan Shoemaker some room, and while he line-drived it to Bumphis at midfield the returner made one move too many and was caught at the Auburn 47. The field position was wasted as Auburn cranked up the interior pressure with three-straight tackles of Relf for total losses of 13 yards. Hutchins double-clutched on the punt, but that worked out well after all.

Because Quindarius Carr let the kick glance off his hands, where FB Patrick Hanrahan could fall on the ball at Auburn's 20-yard line. Relf took advantage of Tiger aggression with a shovel-flip to TE Marcus Green for 11 yards. After RB Vick Ballard punched out a quick nine yards, Relf kept around right end and almost made the goal line before losing the handle. The ball rolled on in where OG Gabe Jackson got to the fumble first for the touchdown. Review upheld the call and State tied it up at 2:30.

A bad kickoff due to a personal foul on the PAT, and 33-yard return had Auburn in business on the State 48, and soon after the 34 on a Newton throw. He looked longer the next time only to leave his strike for Darvin Adams a little too long, with S Nickoe Whitley intercepting in the end zone at 1:26.

A nine-yard squirt by RB Robert Elliott netted first down as the quarters changed. So did the quarterbacks with Tyler Russell entering, and directing one first down. But on 3rd-and-7 his low throw was swatted and caught by Nick Fairley, giving the Tigers possession on the midfield stripe.

That first State turnover proved to be the momentum-mover. Newton's legs and reactions did the damage as he pitched before contact for a 14-yard gainer; then scrambled to convert 3rd-and-6. He ran again, to the MSU eight-yard line and recovered his own fumble, then faced third down at the twelve. It wasn't a problem as Adams curled down the right hashmarks and into the end zone for an unobstructed touchdown catch at 8:37 for the 14-7 lead.

Bumphis only got back to the 13 on his kickoff return. State did muscle for a couple of first downs, with Relf reading a gap for ten yards and FB Patrick Hanrahan slipping up the middle for 13 more. But Relf and OC J.C. Brignone didn't complete the exchange; ball-hawk Fairley fell on the fumble at State's 44-yard line.

Newton ran past and through tacklers for ten yards, and Onterio McCalebb burst for another 14 and first down at the Dog 18-yard line. Auburn called time on 3rd-and-6, though they managed to line up in an illegal formation and negate Newton's gain. DT Cox showed smarts by not all-out rushing Newton, just containing and forcing an incompletion. Byrum chipped the 34-yard field through at 4:29.

State got one move of chains as TB LaDarius Perkins entered for a ten-yard gainer. Relf had Bumphis open on a post at the Tiger 25 but had to unload just a little too soon, and a third-down throw was batted. Hutchins's punt rolled to the Auburn 14 at 2:18. The Tigers seemed content to run out that time, but unexpected gains by McCalebb and Fannin moved the chains and Newton kept for first down to the AU 46, drawing a timeout at 0:41. A couple of incompletions from State's 42 later Auburn did let the last ticks go on a draw and settled for a 17-7 intermission margin.

Relf looked like a new passer for the new half, hitting Ballard for a 23-yard completion and Bumphis for eight more. After a bad snap lost two he ran for eleven, and flipped to Hanrahan for the first down at Auburn's 16. Bumphis gained six on a reverse, then eight more on a swing-pass. With first-and-goal at the 2.5 line State had to use a timeout to organize. Relf's jump pass achieved everything but a touchdown as TE Marcus Green dropped the wide-open lob. Two Ballard totes were enough though as he broke through left guard at 8:55 for a 17-14 scoreboard.

Which also meant 6:05 of game-clock that Newton didn't get to touch the ball. Nor would the Tiger triggerman get a chance for another 27 ticks because Sean Brauchle chipped an on-sides kickoff and recovered the carom himself at State's 44-yard line. The Dogs tried to cash-in quickly only to have Relf leave it a little higher than Bumphis could reach. Hutchins' punt was fair-caught at the Tiger 12.

Auburn needed timeout on 3rd-and-1 to decide Newton should keep and go straight-ahead for seven yards and fresh set of downs. The game could so easily have changed on second down as CB Corey Broomfield read the play and had a pick on his hands with clear sailing ahead. The throw was just too hot to handle, so instead Newton had a third down to hit Adams at the Bulldog 49.

Newton bulled to convert another 3rd-and-short, but on 3rd-and-10 he was finally caught for a loss. A big one, too, back to the Tiger 49. Bumphis had no choice but fair-catch at the 11 with two Tigers in his facemask.

With Russell at quarterback State had 3rd-and-1 itself, and while the pass was there Bumphis couldn't get the handle. Hutchins hit it long with a return to the Tiger 38. Newton called his own second-down number for a 11-yard ramble just over midfield as the quarter ended. Fannin was open for a 14-yard gainer to open the final period, but a 22-yard dash was negated on a hold and the ball spotted back on the 45.

A long strike on the sideline was out of bounds and on 4th-and-14 Auburn took a penalty for more punting room, but still hit it into the end zone. An option-pitch to Bumphis netted 16 yards but that was about all for the drive as TE Brandon Henderson's third-down shovel pass (Green was out with a knee) went for nothing. Auburn took over on their 23 with 6:30 showing and proceeded to burn over four minutes off the clock.

Bad tackling and positioning was the first culprit, as twice Michael Dyer slanted leftwards for 27 total yards. Auburn came back with trickery, too, as after throwing to former quarterback Kodi Burns it was Newton getting the throw-back for a 22-yard gainer to State's 19. The Bulldogs used their second timeout at 2:25 as the Tigers set up the field goal, which DT Cox rose up to block.

So the home team still had a chance with 2:19 and a single timeout. Relf converted a 4th-and-3 by finding Clark on the left side for 21 yards; and on third-and-long went to Clark again. The wideout probably should have caught the ball anyway but interference was ruled for a free first down…but still only on the Auburn 41, far out of field goal range.

On 2nd-and-10 Relf had time and found Berry over on the right sideline and near the ten-yard line; Berry got both hands on the ball but as he spun he took one off to break his fall. That lost the handle for an agonizing incompletion that should have had State in easy field goal range at 0:34. A third-down throw was caught but out of bounds by Brandon Heavens. Briefly the State staff seemed to consider running the field goal kicker out for a long, long try; then everyone was called back but the play-clock was running out. In the hurry there must have been a missed communication because Berry abruptly cut-back on a pattern that wouldn't have gotten first down anyway. Relf threw where he thought his receiver was going.

Relf was 12-of-25 for 110 yards, and sacked three times. Russell threw just nine passes with four completed for 19 yards and the interception. Bumphis had five catches for 34 yards but lamented the other balls he let literally go through his fingers. Bumphis was also the leading MSU rusher with 27 yards on three runs, while Relf had 26 yards on 14 runs…factoring in the 25 he lost on sacks. He also didn't get credit for the touchdown run that forevermore credits guard Jackson with six points.

McCalebb had 68 rushing yards for Auburn, and Dyer 48 more. Bulldog linebackers Chris White and K.J. Wright had 11 and 10 tackles apiece.

For as many drops or miscues in kicking as State had, Mullen did have to be pleased that his team drew only two penalties all evening, for 25 yards.

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