The third-quarter play came with Auburn secure in its 35-0 lead and Bulldogs just playing for a little offensive pride. The drive, State’s second of the period, coincidentally began with Mixon running the ball. For a three-yard loss.
Five snaps later QB Nick Fitzgerald threw it Mixon’s way for a 18-yard completion. The next toss also came to Mixon, incomplete. Third time was charming, when Mixon went to the left sideline and cut back with Tiger Stephen Roberts inside.
“It was a great play call by Coach Mullen,” Mixon said. “The high safety, Jamal (Couch) set the good pick. Nick got back-shoulder and I just made a play. I was trying to stay inbounds, the DB under-cut and missed the ball and I caught it.”
Staying inbounds was no exaggeration as Mixon’s momentum nearly spun him onto the white grass. “Yeah, I was looking down. I actually thought I was out of bounds. I caught my balance and took off.” Took off unchallenged for a 37-yard touchdown.
Up to then redshirt freshman Mixon had caught four balls in as many games, for a net-total one yard. He finished today with 55 yards on just two balls. Mixon also tried his hand, ahem feet, on two more receiver rushes. One gained a yard, the other lost three.
Whatever the stats, getting thrashed on the home field muted most enthusiasm. Though as Mixon said, Coach Dan Mullen tried to rouse some at halftime despite the five-touchdown deficit and Auburn’s utter ease of domination.
“It never feels good being down. Obviously Coach Mullen just wanted us to give relentless effort, you know, just play Mississippi State football. Don’t give up and see what kind of man we were. Come back out and just keep playing.”
START SOONER: In their last three games, the Bulldog offense has scored 65 points with nine touchdowns after halftime. Opponents have just 24 points in the same span.
But first halves are a whole ‘nother matter. State has been whipped 72-16 by the combo of LSU, UMass, and Auburn. So maybe this is a good team for making halftime adjustments, but is forced to by first-half failures?
CHART CLIMBING: At the other end of the receiver age-chart, senior WR Fred Ross had a day he’d probably rather forget. And this is despite Ross adding a touchdown to his career count.
State’s surest receiving hands had two definite drops, one where he made a rookie mistake of running before bringing down the pass. Ross also struggled with the high sky, admittedly right in his facemask for the first half when facing south on punts. He muffed a pair of them, recovering the first himself with LB Dez Harris saving the other in the third quarter.
Ross did grab and keep four other throws, including Fitzgerald’s eight-yard strike in the fourth quarter. That gave Ross 15 career touchdowns, breaking a tie for fifth in MSU records with Bill Buckley. He’s two behind Justin Jenkins and Eric Moulds now.
He is still #3 in career catches at 156, three back of Chad Bumphis and six from tying David Smith’s record 162. He is only the sixth Bulldog receiver to top 1,900 yards (now at 1,928); and remains the active SEC leader in career catches. He also is leading the league’s receivers with a catch in 27-straight games, going back to 2014 season.
ONE BACK, ONE ON HOLD: Mississippi State not only got a veteran player back, a starter returned. Though to be clear, CB Cedric Jiles last started a game on Sept. 21, 2013 against Troy. He had played in 26 other games around a series of injuries.
Then the senior broke an arm in August drills. But this time the return was faster and Jiles rejoined the active roster during open date. He celebrated the return with the starting assignment at left cornerback, in place of CB Lashard Durr. CB Jamoral Graham started on the right corner. Jiles was credited with one tackle, and missed another.
DE Will Coleman had hoped to make his own return this week, having been sidelined since the first week of preseason with back problems. Though Coleman has been practicing again lately, he did not dress for Auburn.
Redshirt frosh TE Farrod Green made his first career start today.
He won’t be celebrating it much after a bad day at right tackle, but OT Justin Senior made his team-leading 31st career start. OG Devon Desper is second on the squad at 20 starts now.
BAGGED: Not surprisingly Auburn’s blocking schemes paid particular attention to the best Bulldogs at making tackles behind the line. It worked as DT A.J. Jefferson nor V Jonathan Calvin made a stop for loss. Calvin briefly left the game after a shakeup, but returned to make seven total tackles. Jefferson had just two, both assists.
That keeps senior Jefferson at 33.5 career tackles for losses, #5 on the MSU list. He’s now chasing a pair of Dogs from the legendary early-80s defense, Johnie Cooks and Glen Collins with 35.0 each.
State’s two sacks were accounted for by a senior, NG Nelson Adams, and true freshman DT Marquiss Spencer.
COVER BOY: Or man rather. This home game’s program had senior LB Richie Brown on the cover. He responded with a career-best 14 total tackles, split evenly between solos and assists. Brown’s previous career-best was 13 tackles…against Auburn last year.
It was the highest tackle total by a Bulldog since one of Brown’s predecessors, Cam Lawrence, made 15 against…no, not Auburn, at LSU in 2012. Brown now has 239 career tackles.
LOSING COOL: Taking a beating is bad enough. Drawing unforced and obvious penalties makes everything look worse than even the scoreboard.
Such as after Auburn’s fourth touchdown, a two-yard dive play on which Dog NG Nick James was offsides. That flag was naturally declined. Then on the PAT James not only jumped the line but kept coming and rolled the placekicker for a 15-yard personal foul. Auburn kept the point and kicked off from the 50.
At least that incident had some shade of humor to it, with the 320-pound defender taking out a kicker. It wasn’t funny at all when State drew not one but two personal fouls, and on a positive defensive play at that. DT Torrey Dale stopped a drive with his career-first forced fumble. LB Traver Jung came up with the loose ball, then barked a little too much on top of an insulting gesture. The flag was automatic.
So was another, and on a non-participant. RB Ashton Shumpert was so enthused he came off the sideline, and without wearing a helmet. Either merited the ensuing penalty which cost State a combined 30 yards after a forced turnover. So the Dogs had to start on their 27-yard line instead of the Auburn 43.
It mattered, because the ensuing offensive drive went 14 plays…but only got to the Tiger 13. Every snap increased the risk of a mistake and State made it with a 4th-and-7 throw intercepted at the two-yard line.