Auburn won the toss and deferred, risky since Mississippi State has a history of scoring on its first series. This time the Dogs didn’t, going three-and-out. But the home team still got to strike first anyway. Because on the first Tiger snap, Nick Marshall underthrew everyone but S Jay Hughes.
The return put Mississippi State on the 33-yard line and after a first down bobble and deflected pass. QB Dak Prescott knew the pressure was coming and even had a Tiger grab him at the waist. The quarterback not only was strong enough to stay upright, but fire for WR De’Runnya Wilson at the 15-yard line. That would have moved the chains but Wilson didn’t stop; he bounced off Jonathan Mincy, angled for the post and dragged Jonathan Jones over the goal at 12:41.
Marshall’s second pass of the day went to the right team, only to have Duke Williams separated from the ball at the 32 by CB Taveze Calhoun with LB Benardrick McKinney recovering on the 32-yard line. On 3rd-and-5 Prescott got time to throw to RB Josh Robinson, who’d floated out alone to the right, for a catch-and-go down to the Tiger one. Prescott rushed everyone up to the line and gave the ball to Robinson before Auburn was entirely set, for the touchdown at 11:30.
Down two touchdowns already, Auburn did net a first down on the third chance but were stalled by a holding call, which negated a 30-yard completion into MSU territory. Beginning at their 29 this time Prescott put together a real drive, though again he had to recover a bobbled ball. WR Robert Johnson netted 21 yards on a fine catch, TE Malcolm Johnson added 15 more, and Robinson 11 yards on a sweep.
On 2nd-and-2 at the Tiger 13 WR De’Runnya Wilson couldn’t make the catch as Tiger Trovon Reed was all over his back in the end zone. With free first down on the two, Prescott himself hammered it across at 6:09.
Instead of rattling, Auburn responded with commitment to rushing and manufactured a drive to State’s nine. Double-coverage in the end zone kept Duke Williams from making a real try on a high throw, so the Tigers settled for a field goal try. It tailed off to the left, keeping all momentum in MSU’s direction.
Which they threw away on an interesting special teams play. P Logan Cooke rolled out looking for a designed target, LB Richie Brown, who had fallen down. Cooke’s forced throw was intercepted by Jonathan Ford at the 36. A 29-yard throw caught by Williams had first-and-goal on the eight.
Two stuffed runs later Auburn called time to come up with a trick play of their own, with tight end C.J. Uzomah taking the reverse flip and looking to throw it as well. There wasn’t anyone open enough so he took off and only a great rolling tackle by LB Beniquez Brown prevented the touchdown. The Tigers lined up for another kick as the second quarter opened and this one went through at 14:57.
Auburn also got the ball back quickly as Prescott underthrew R.Johnson on the left sideline for an easy interception by Jones at the Bulldog 46. The Tigers soon were on State’s seven with third-and-goal. Marshall evaded DE Preston Smith to throw for Sammie Coates in the end zone; but the receiver had stepped out of bounds in route. So not only was the touchdown negated but the down lost and again Auburn settled for the three-pointer, at 11:17.
State responded with a strong drive including Wilson catches for a net 30 yards and good option-pitch work by Prescott and Robinson. But having reached the Tiger 13 Prescott put too much air under an end zone throw and Auburn’s Jones intercepted this one.
The turn netted nothing at first, until Bulldog KR Jamoral Graham tried to field the punt on a hop. The ball came loose and the Tigers were in business on State’s 22. This time they made the most of opportunity as Williams got open in the end zone for the 10-yard touchdown catch at 5:26.
Even with a lead, some sort of strong response was necessary even if only to eat up clock. Prescott did better, though not after two snaps made the offense still seem un-synched. But Malcolm Johnson made a good catch and better run for first down at the 38, then Prescott read the flow rightly and kept for 37 yards to the Tiger 35. WR Gabe Myles netted 16 yards on a flare-out, then on 3rd-and-10 with the play clock running out, rain starting to fall, Prescott didn’t call for time. He called his own number and bolted nigh-untouched straight ahead for touchdown at 3:58.
Auburn nearly struck back as Coates got a step on coverage and Marshall went very deep. Maybe it was the dampening home field coming to the home team’s aid because Coates had a beautiful throw go off his fingers at the 15. Auburn punted, State got a first down on a catch by TE Gus Walley and took the 28-13 lead to their locker room.
A fast start would have changed everything for Auburn in the new half. When Coates caught a perfect long ball in-stride and was dragged down from behind by CB Taveze Calhoun a flag flew late on the play to boot. But expectations of a horse-collar call were replaced by ruling of offensive interference. So instead of sitting first-and-goal the Tigers were dug deep and soon punting.
State had to punt it back from Auburn’s 40, with Calhoun downing Cooke’s high kick 18 inches from the goal line. This time it was a defensive pass interference call, on Redmond, digging the Tigers out of a jam. That kick-started a drive down to the Bulldog 15 where on 3rd-and-8 Marshall had time to find Williams at the goal line and make it a 28-20 game at 6:09.
The Dogs didn’t get anything going in response as on 3rd-and-2 a curious pass play had nobody open and Prescott pressured to boot. State’s defense made a stop at midfield with three incompletions, then did it again to end the third quarter.
The decisive sequence was sparked by Robinson’s 37-yard breakaway. That set the Tigers back on heels just enough so State could drive to their 26 with 4th-and-8. Too far for a realistic kick, Coach Dan Mullen talked things over before going for it. The pass to Wilson wasn’t caught, because Jones had him in a death-grip. The free first down changed everything, as even though Prescott was stuffed on 3rd-and-1 at the Tiger two it was close enough. Evan Sobiesk knocked it through at 11:33 for priceless margin.If a two-score cushion was strong at this point, a three-score margin would practically settle things. State special teams came through. AU’s Ricardo Lewis took the kickoff at his one on the right corner and angled back to the left. He ran into his own blocker, then got stood up long enough for S Quadry Antoine, subbed-in for injured regular Desmond Harris, to make the strip and LB Matthew Wells recover at the Tiger 15. Auburn naturally asked for review as their hopes hung on a reversed call, which it wasn’t.
State struck instantly as Malcolm Johnson came down with a tough catch at the one-yard line, and Robinson bounced around left end for the 38-20 margin with 11:07 left.
Auburn wasn’t entirely done, driving to the Bulldog 24 with 4th-and-two. Mathematically going for a field goal made sense, and Daniel Carlson was good at 7:43. But to the Bulldogs it looked like a blink in face of pressure, all the more so when the Tigers didn’t try any onsides kickoffing. State only burned 2:40 with their turn, but that meant Auburn had to really push the pace. On first down at the Bulldog 10, Marshall had his hurried (by DT Chris Jones) tipped and caught by diving S Justin Cox at the three-yard line.
Prescott made sure there’d be no return of the ball by scrambling for a first down, then kneeling twice to complete Mississippi State’s 38-23 victory.
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