Auburn blew Mississippi State away with 35 first half points and coasted to a 38-14 victory at Scott Field. The unranked Tigers left 4-2, 2-1 SEC, while State is 2-3 and 1-2 in league play. It was Auburn’s first win in the series since 2013 and first win in Starkville since 2010.
“We got a pride check today,” QB Nick Fitzgerald said. “We got our butts kicked a little bit.”
More than a little bit, certainly for a first half which left both sides shocked at just how easily everything came for the Tigers. This wasn’t any case of superior scheming, ineffective gameplanning, created mismatches.
Auburn simply and steadily whipped the Bulldogs. Coach Dan Mullen said as much.
“The whole game starts up front. They physically won the line of scrimmage.”
The Tigers won on the line going away for that decisive first half. At intermission Auburn not only led by five touchdowns—the last, a defensive score. The Tiger offense had 335 yards and were averaging nearly seven yards per snap. A better, or to MSU worse, measure was of 49 snaps 42 produced gains and 17 first downs.
All this was after Auburn gave the ball away on their third play, a pass off the receiver’s hands and caught by S Kivon Coman. That was about the only first-half sequence to go State’s way…and the Bulldogs failed to take red zone advantage, much less a lead. PK Westin Graves’ 28-yard field goal missed left, and the contest was over.
It just took a few more minutes to make it official.
“They are a good football team,” Fitzgerald said. “But they didn’t do anything special. It wasn’t anything crazy we couldn’t handle. We just didn’t execute what we needed to execute.”
Instead it was a first-half execution as State got carved up in every aspect. Sean White wielded the blade.
Having made, and lost, his first college start against the Bulldogs last fall, the sophomore was eerily efficient this time around. White was 13-of-16 in the first half for 185 yards and a touchdown pass to Ryan Davis for the day’s first points. Other than that bad-bounce interception and a sack, the Tiger triggerman was money. He only needed throw two more balls in the last half and completed one, giving him 204 yards on the day.
Auburn’s ground game made White’s work easier. Though leading rusher Kerryon Johnson was limited by injury to three runs he still gained 21 yards. Kamryn Pettway was more than able to pick up any slack, abusing Bulldog defenders for 169 yards on 39 carries. It was Pettway punching the ball across three times in the first half, too, with runs of one, three, and two yards.
The Tigers weren’t flawless. They didn’t have to be. “When we did get stops in distance situations we didn’t play good second- or third-down defense,” Mullen said. “Or we’d give up a penalty.” Whatever the reasons, State’s 3-4 set was unable to either pressure White or stop Pettway from getting to second-level matchups that too often he won.
The Bulldog offense was winning nothing. Or specifically, not an offensive line which was brutalized. Even allowing that in Carl Lawson and Montravious Adams the Tigers have two top-tier linemen, blocking was scarcely a speed bump between ball and tackler. That Fitzgerald absorbed only three official sacks with as many credited hurries said something for his getting away or getting rid of the ball.
Getting it to a target was another matter. Fitzgerald finished 17-of-34 for 181 yards, with 120 of that in the second half when Auburn seemed to dial down the heat. The longest play of State’s day was 37 yards, and that did go for a touchdown. WR Keith Mixon caught a sideline shot Tiger defensive back Stephen Roberts dove at and missed. Mixon kept his toes in-bounds and got to the end zone at 5:48 of the third quarter.
That score prevented Mullen’s first shutout at Mississippi State. Fitzgerald was able to add another touchdown pass in the fourth period, on an eight-yard hookup with WR Fred Ross at 10:14. None of this amounted to a real comeback of course.
State had to throw more often than run, called or forced, because there was no rushing attack other than Fitzgerald. The quarterback kept or scrambled for gains of 83 only to lose back 22 of that on sacks or behind-line stops. The Bulldogs couldn’t make Auburn respect the run inside or outside with a backfield-best 17 yards on four tries by RB Brandon Holloway.
Ross and Holloway each had four catches, but other than his touchdown it was a struggling day for Ross. He dropped some passes, he dropped two punts—both recovered by teammates—and finished with just 29 yards.
Auburn’s other and only second-half points came on a 25-yard field goal with 99 seconds left. The Tigers didn’t need to score after intermission, which deflated their offensive statistics somewhat. Holding Auburn to a kick did keep State from matching Mullen's largest defeat margin here, 28 points to Alabama back in 2009.
Perhaps epitomizing the lost afternoon was a third-quarter sequence, when DT Torrey Dale forced a Pettway fumble near State’s bench area. LB Traver Jung recovered, then made a gesture to draw a sportsmanship penalty. On top of that RB Ashton Shumpert ran onto the field in celebration without a helmet for another 15 yards. The Bulldogs did follow with a 14-play possession but it ended as Fitzgerald throw was intercepted at the two-yard line.
Coming after an open date and extra preparation time, such a performance shook the Dogs deeply. “It’s tough, because you go in thinking you had a great week and the urgency’s there,” LB Richie Brown said. Instead State slipped under .500 for a third time this season, with a Friday game at Brigham Young upcoming.
“I think we’re playing with pretty good effort,” Mullen said. “But I think they have to play with a desperate sense of urgency every single snap.”