Talk, talk, talk. In the days preceding the Auburn versus Mississippi State match up, much talk occurred about the offensive showdown we were all to witness on Thursday night. Instead, a very fine defensive struggle ensued in the second half of the ball game and the Auburn Tigers came out on top by a score of 17-14.
When the clock struck 0:00 at the end of the fourth quarter, the scoreboard continued to exhort fans to "RING" their cowbells. All night long, the scoreboard would instruct fans to "YELL" when it was "illegal" to ring the cowbells and to "RING" when it was appropriate to do so. With a "bloody your nose" mentality, it was Ted Roof's defense; yes, I said, Ted Roof's defense that silenced those cowbells for good.
Emory Blake scored the first Tiger touchdown on a screen pass from Cameron Newton and a critical block by Terrell Zachery. It was one of few times that Auburn receivers blocked with an attitude. Many times, the blocking by the receivers was not up to par and that must improve quickly. If not, plays will amount to no gain and turnovers will occur.
Early in the first quarter, the momentum was clearly swinging Auburn's way until Quindarius Carr dropped a punt, giving the Bulldogs new life and excellent field position. Auburn's defense had just come off the field after driving State backwards on three consecutive plays.
Mississippi State quarterback, Chris Relf and company are then able to drive at will on the disheartened Auburn defense and the Bulldogs score seven points to tie the game. That certainly gave State fans something to "RING" about; however, the Bulldogs made a mental mistake of their own with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, which occurred just after the extra point conversion.
With the momentum back on Auburn's side and good field position at the Bulldog 49 yard line, the Tigers looked to score again. It was not to be. On the third play of the drive, Newton tried to find Darvin Adams in the end zone for the second Tiger touchdown of the night. Instead, he found Adams in triple coverage and the ball was intercepted for Newton's single turnover of the night.
All night long, defensive tackle Nick Fairley found ways to make life very miserable for the Mississippi State offense. Shortly after Newton threw his interception, the number two Bulldog quarterback in coach Dan Mullen's two quarterback system entered the game and promptly threw and interception. He was picked off by Nick Fairley at the line of scrimmage and it was just one of many fine plays made by Fairley throughout the night.
Eltoro Freeman led the defense with six solo tackles and three assists. Aairon Savage and Nick Etheridge erased all doubts as to whether or not they were ready to play by coming up with five solo tackles each and one assisted tackle each. Fairley ended the night with three solo tackles, two assists, 1.5 sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery. Josh Bynes also played very well making his presence known all over the field and finishing the night with three tackles and three assists.
Auburn capitalized on the Fairley interception by scoring its second touchdown of the night. With the ball first and goal, a fumble occurred on a fake hand-off between quarterback Newton and running back Mario Fannin. Fortunately for the Tigers, Newton pounced on the ball but the goal line was pushed farther away. On the next play, a blocking in the back penalty pushed the ball back even further.
Calm, cool and collected, Newton, on third down and very, very long, threw a dart to Darvin Adams to put Auburn back ahead by seven points. Newton ended the night 11 of 19 for 136 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. The elusive quarterback also ran the ball 18 times, but a stingy Mississippi State defense held him to a mere 69 yards after sacking him twice.
Late in the first half, a fumble in the red zone ended the Bulldogs chances to tie the game. Mississippi State had been moving the ball on the ground with ease and many Bulldog fans will be talking this next week as to why Dan Mullen did not choose to keep the ball on the ground more.
On the ensuing Tiger possession, Newton and speedy running back Ontario McCalebb showed America that Auburn's offense was capable of running the ball as well. With the ball down to the State 11 yard line, Auburn looked at third down and three with plenty of time remaining.
However, an illegal formation penalty would turn a short third down and three into a long third down and eight. Most likely a running play was changed to a pass play and with no one open, quarterback Newton made a very smart decision to throw the ball away.
By not trying to force the ball in somewhere, a possible interception was prevented and Wes Bynum was given the chance to come in and tack on three more points to close out the first half. The 17 points scored in the first half would be the only points scored by the Tigers throughout the entire game.
Mississippi State scored on its first possession of the second half and then successfully executed an on-side kick to get the ball back with superb field position. For a few brief and nerve-wracking moments, it appeared that Gene Chizik had been out-coached in the locker room at half time.
It was not to be. Time and time again throughout the second half, Auburn's defense stopped Mississippi State when it counted most. Auburn only had four penalties for a total of 35 yards but they came at very crucial times. Late in the game, a pass interference penalty by Auburn gave State new life and a chance to drive for a tie or possibly, a win. In the end, stout defense by Auburn, as well as a dropped pass by a Bulldog receiver provided Auburn with its first SEC victory of the year.
Some key game notes:
Highly touted offensive tackle Lee Ziemba went out in the first quarter with a knee injury and was replaced by Brandon Mosley. The junior college transfer did an outstanding job all night long by making precise blocks during plays executed to the left side.
Freshman running back, Mike Dyer, introduced himself to football fans across the nation last night by making several outstanding runs, many of which were made late in the fourth quarter as the Tigers attempted to run out the clock or score trying. On one run in particular, Dyer should have gone down at the line of scrimmage but his quickness allowed him to side step a defender and burst down field for a long gain. Look for him to become a larger factor in the offense as season progresses.
With a record of 2-0, the Auburn Tigers will now have an extra day or two to rest and prepare for the next game. The Clemson Tigers, under Coach Dabo Sweeney, come to the plains on Saturday, September 18 for what should be a very entertaining game.