No. 13 Auburn shuts down No. 24 Mississippi State
As a true freshman, Jarrett Stidham threw 12 touchdown passes and nearly 1,300 yards for Baylor. After Saturday’s game, Mississippi State wishes Stidham never had transferred and left the state of Texas.
The rest of the Southeastern Conference soon might be feeling the same way, too.
Auburn’s sophomore quarterback completed 13 of 16 for 264 yards and two touchdowns and the Tigers’ defense bottled up a potent Mississippi State offense in a 49-10 win on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala.
Stidham completed four long passes against an MSU secondary that was ranked second in the SEC and ninth nationally in pass defense heading into Saturday’s game.
Stidham’s 261.1 passer efficiency rating was the best by an Auburn quarterback since Cam Newton recorded the same rating against Chattanooga in 2010.
“Stidham’s getting more and more comfortable, and the line is protecting him,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “The receivers are growing up and making plays downfield.”
If the Bulldogs had any thought of pulling off the upset, those dreams were dashed early in the third quarter.
The Tigers (4-1, 2-0 SEC West) put the game out of reach when Kerryon Johnson rushed for a 1-yard score to put the Tigers up 35-10. Stidham completed a 52-yard pass to Kyle Davis to set up Johnson’s third score of the game.
Three plays after Johnson’s touchdown, Javaris Davis intercepted Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald and returned the ball 37 yards for a 42-10.
“We did everything wrong that you needed to do to win a game on the road,” MSU coach Dan Mullen said.
He pointed out seven false starts, numerous dropped passes and giving up at least four big plays on defense as the biggest problems.
Auburn is the only FBS school not to give up 14 or more points after five weeks of the season.
“We had a lot of guys coming back on defense and you could tell in the spring things were different,” Malzahn said “They were playing with an attitude, playing with an edge. Hopefully, we can keep it going.”
MSU quarterback Nick Fitzgerald was under pressure all game and completed just 13 of 33 pass attempts for 157 yards and one touchdown. He threw two interceptions and also was the leading rusher for the Bulldogs with 56 yards.
Malzahn praised his defense for keeping Fitzgerald under wraps. “Nick Fitzgerald scares you to death, but we did a very good job containing him and keeping him from breaking big runs,” he said.
The key play in the game came early in first quarter with the Tigers leading 7-0. Stidham fumbled on a hit by Jeffery Simmons and defensive lineman Montez Sweat recovered the loose ball and rumbled into the end zone for an apparent score.
But the officials blew the play dead, thinking it was an incomplete pass. A review overturned the incomplete call but officials could only award the ball to the Bulldogs at the spot of recovery. Mullen was livid.
“The negated fumble return killed momentum,” he said. “You’re looking for that edge, so that hurt a lot.”
The Bulldogs moved the ball only 10 yards on eight plays, and instead of a touchdown, they resorted for a 40-yard Jace Christmann field goal to make the score 7-3.
Mississippi State never recovered.
The Bulldogs (3-2, 1-2) came into the game averaging 36.5 points per game. Mississippi State also was averaging 267.5 yards per game on the ground (13th in the nation).
The MSU defense was a legitimate top 10 in total defense (255.5 yards per game) and fifth in passing yards allowed (129 yards per game).
Auburn didn’t read those clippings. The Tigers compiled 511 yards of total offense while holding the Bulldogs vaunted rushing attack to just 199 yards. Mississippi State finished with 351 total yards.
The Tigers drove 99 yards on their first possession of the second half to take a 28-10 lead. After forcing Mississippi State to punt, the Bulldogs downed the ball on the 1-foot line. Stidham connected with Eli Stove for a 57-yard pass on the first play. Then on third-and-3, Stove ran 30 yards to the MSU 5-yard line setting up Johnson for his second touchdown of the day.
Fitzgerald found Justin Johnson with less than a minute to go in the half to get Mississippi State back in the game, 21-10.
NOTES: The two teams were meeting for the 91st time with Auburn holding a sizable 62-26-2 advantage. Mississippi State had won three of the past five meetings. ... The Bulldogs’ fake punt early in the second quarter came up short and gave Auburn the ball on the MSU 31-yard line. But the MSU defense came up strong and forced a field-goal attempt, which Auburn missed when the ball hit the upright. ... Mississippi State was playing its third straight ranked SEC opponent. ... Auburn entered the game with a 15-1 record when ranked under Gus Malzahn at Jordan-Hare Stadium. ... Junior RB Kamryn Pettway and senior LB Tre’ Williams both were in uniform for Auburn after missing last week’s 51-14 win over Missouri.