Reaction: Auburn 41, Mississippi State 34


Auburn defensive back Ryan Smith stops Mississippi State quarterback Chris Relf just short of the goal line, and the Tigers survive for their 17th straight win. (Press-Register/Mike Kittrell)

Auburn had played well, even great at times, but it appeared everything was about to come crashing down. After Mississippi State’s defense stopped Auburn from putting the game away multiple times in the fourth quarter, the Bulldog offense was grinding out a methodical, efficient drive to pull level with the Tigers. After the game, head coach Dan Mullen said that he would have gone for two had State scored, so in reality, the Bulldogs were driving for the win. Even though the Auburn defense had been pushed around all afternoon, when the game was in the balance and their backs literally against the wall of the goal line, the Tigers hunkered down and found a way to keep Vick Ballard and Chris Relf out of the end zone and found a way to win.

Any Auburn fan that wasn’t prepared for his or her heart to be ripped out as State’s final drive unfolded is a liar or a fool. Relf and co. had optioned Auburn to death. And with Ballard tearing through the battered defensive line, there was no reason to believe that Mississippi State wouldn’t score in the final moments and have a chance to send Auburn to defeat. But after stopping Ballard at the 1 on first and goal and forcing Mullen to use his final timeout with 10 seconds remaining, Auburn found a hero in Ryan Smith who stopped Relf’s option run — the same option run that had consistently been good for at least three yards — inches short of the goal line. The remaining seconds ticked off the clock, and Auburn once again came away victorious in a game that most thought it could not and would not win.


Auburn hiring Gene Chizik after the 2008 season. Anyone still insisting that Gene Chizik is anything other than a great football coach is either in denial or severely uninformed. Over the course of Auburn’s 17-game winning streak, the Tigers have won 10 games decided by eight points or less. That doesn’t count last year’s Arkansas and Georgia games, in which Auburn pulled away late but faced adversity early and often. No matter the situation, Chizik’s players never believe that they are out of the game, and they keep coming up with plays on both sides of the ball to come out on top.

Gus Malzahn is the genius running the Tiger offense, and he deserves piles and piles of credit for Auburn’s successful run. But Chizik hired Malzahn, and Chizik is responsible for keeping his players mentally tough and prepared for any situation. Every time Mississippi State had a chance to land a knockout blow on Saturday, Auburn had an answer. After throwing a pick-six to give the Bulldogs a 21-14 lead, quarterback Barrett Trotter came back and led two big touchdown drives, throwing a TD pass on third and 14 on the first. And when Auburn took over at its own 20 with 40 seconds left in the half, Trotter led the offense down the field to a much-needed field goal. After sputtering, the Auburn O picked itself up and put points on the board when it had to.

The last year-plus has proved that Auburn is, mentally, the toughest team in the country, and Chizik deserves all the credit in the world for that.

The running game showed up. Between the young offensive line failing to open lanes and Onterio McCalebb not being able to gain traction between the tackles, Auburn’s running game was nearly non-existent against Utah State. A week of growth for the line and adjustment for Malzahn gave Auburn just what it needed. The Tigers rushed for 235 yards and averaged 6.5 yards per carry. Mike Dyer racked up 150 yards, two TDs and 8.3 yards per carry, McCalebb rushed for 68 and 6.2, and even Tre Mason got in on the action, gaining 14 yards on three carries. Malzahn mostly used McCalebb on the edge and allowed Dyer to be the feature back that he is, and it paid off. Between the tackles, Dyer bruised the Mississippi State D, and when he was given an opportunity to get outside, he showed the speed to break off long runs. For the most part, it was a Gus Malzahn offense run to perfection.

Emory Blake is bona fide. Blake had a great game against Utah State, but until he put together a nice performance against an SEC defense, it wasn’t known whether or not he could truly be a No. 1 receiver. That question has certainly been answered. Blake caught seven balls for 108 yards and showed some nice moves on a 46-yard, catch-and-run touchdown. As much as Malzahn likes to use underneath and swing routes, Blake does a nice job of stretching the field. He should give headaches to every opposing defensive coordinator Auburn faces this season.

It’s official: Auburn has serious weapons in its special teams units. Now that we’ve seen all facets of the Tigers’ special teams, it’s clear that they are the best Chizik has had in his tenure on the Plains. Mason had another big day, averaging 28.6 yards per kickoff return after a slow start. Steven Clark averaged 45.7 yards per punt and pinned Mississippi State inside its 20 four times on six kicks. Cody Parkey continued to show off his leg, driving four out of eight kickoffs for touchbacks. Travon Reed wasn’t given much of an opportunity to return any of the six Mississippi State punts, but he didn’t fumble, which is all we can ask for. The biggest special teams question mark was Parkey’s ability to replace Wes Byrum as field goal kicker. Parkey shined on Saturday, converting his only two attempts, including a 43-yarder at the end of the first half. Parkey passed his first test as kicker with flying colors.

Trotter was cool, calm and collected. It was mentioned earlier, but it bears repeating: After throwing a bad pick-six, Trotter never got rattled and led Auburn on four consecutive scoring drives. With Trotter as field general, the offense is going to be fine.


The defense might be good for a couple of big stops, but that’s about it. Watching Relf repeatedly run the zone read down Auburn’s throat must have given fans a taste of their own medicine. After all, it was only last year that opposing fans looked on in a state of dismay as Cam Newton gradually punched the ball down their teams’ throats. Relf churned out 106 yards on Saturday to keep drives alive and frustrate Auburn’s defense. And when Relf wasn’t carrying the ball, Ballard was. He led Mississippi State in rushing with 135 yards and put the Bulldogs in position to tie or win in the game’s final minutes. In all, State ran for 333 yards and was able to keep the ball for 36 minutes.

Aside from an early touchdown, the pass defense didn’t give up any big plays, but it had a hard time stopping the Bulldogs on short and intermediate routes. Even the lone Mississippi State turnover, a pick-six thrown by Relf, was more a result of a fortuitous deflection than a great play. If Relf hadn’t struggled with accuracy for most of the afternoon, things could have been much worse for the Tigers. Auburn gave up 531 yards and 34 points. The Tigers won’t win too many games doing that.

The third down defense is awful. Last week, Auburn couldn’t get off the field on third downs, and it was more of the same against State. The Bulldogs were 11-for-20 on third down and 1-for-1 on fourth down. What’s worse is that State converted on third and long several times. Not only does that keep a drive going, but it crushes the defense’s psyche and boosts the opposing offense’s. In the first two games of the year, Auburn has allowed opponents to convert 25-of-41 third- and fourth-down attempts. If the defense can’t find a way to improve in that area, it’s going to continue to get worn down as games go along. And if the offense has a tough day, Auburn won’t have a chance.

A few troubling penalties. Auburn was penalized seven times for 85 yards against Mississippi State. That includes four personal foul penalties. The team is young, but Chizik must keep the players disciplined. On another day, those penalties could easily cost the Tigers a win. Auburn was better in the second half, so, hopefully, Chizik made his point in the locker room and it won’t be an issue in the future.

Third and short is a struggle. Instead of simple runs or throws on third and fourth down in short-yardage situations, Malzahn was a little too cute against the Bulldogs. Repeated use of the Dyer Cat failed to yield results on third down, and it nearly resulted in a turnover on Auburn’s only fourth-down attempt. Dyer picked up the first down by the thinnest of margins when a simple handoff could have made things easier. On another missed third-and-short opportunity, Malzahn called for a throw-back screen that fell apart. Trickeration is good, and it definitely has its place, but a simpler approach would have given Auburn a better chance at keeping the ball moving.

Where’s Lutzie? For the second consecutive week, Philip Lutzenkirchen didn’t make an impact until late in the game. Whether it falls on Malzahn or Trotter, something needs to be done to give Lutzie a few more touches. He’s far too valuable.


Mississippi State was supposed to be able to walk into Jordan-Hare Stadium, dominate Auburn’s inexperienced defense and head back to Starkville with a program-defining win. Thanks to Relf and Ballard, State’s offense did dominate the Auburn D, but it didn’t matter. After piling up more than 500 yards, when the Bulldogs needed one more inch, the Tigers wouldn’t give it to them. That will only toughen up Auburn’s defensive warriors and give them more confidence in future contests.

On offense, Auburn’s line improved by leaps and bounds between Weeks 1 and 2. There are still some inconsistencies, but it’s clear that the Tigers are going to give every defense they face fits. With Trotter’s poise and ability and a healthy collection of studs at running back, Auburn may just have the best backfield in the SEC. And outside of Arkansas and South Carolina, the receiving corps is as good as anyone’s. This offense is going to be just as dangerous as the national-title winners of 2010.

The magic is going to run out eventually, and the defense still has miles to go before it is ready to face the SEC’s better offenses. But as good as the offense is, and as mentally tough as Chizik’s players are, Auburn can’t be counted out of any game. If the Tigers can win on the road at Clemson next week, they’ll likely be 4-0 heading into a matchup with South Carolina. Leaving Columbia with a win will be a tall order, but with the victories Auburn has pulled out under Chizik, it would take a bold gambler to bet against the Tigers. And that’s the case for every game remaining this season.