Here’s what we learned from the No. 13 Auburn Tigers crushing the No. 24 Mississippi State Bulldogs on Saturday night at Jordan-Hare.
The No. 13 Auburn Tigers turned in their most impressive performance of the season on Saturday night in a 49-10 drubbing of the No. 24 Mississippi State Bulldogs at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Auburn set the tone early with a smashmouth opening touchdown drive that featured seven rushing plays and no pass attempts, keyed by a 59-yard run from Kerryon Johnson. A Jeffery Simmons strip-sack would set up a Mississippi State field goal midway through the first, but nothing else went right in the opening quarter for the Bulldogs.
After struggling badly earlier in the season, Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham suddenly started finding receivers all over the field to kickstart Gus Malzahn’s offense. Stidham found Darius Slayton on a 49-yard pass to set up another Tigers touchdown at the 6:41 mark of the first before connecting with Will Hastings on a long score early in the second to go up 21-3.
Mississippi State appeared in serious danger of getting run off the field for the second week in a row, but its defensive line came to life to help limit the explosive Auburn offense over the rest of the half. Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, who was pressured by Auburn’s defensive line all game, finally hit on a long pass to Keith Mixon before breaking off a 17-yard scramble to set up Mississippi State’s first touchdown of the day just before the half.
The Tigers were ready to go out of the break, and marched right down the field for another Johnson touchdown and commanding 28-10 lead. Tray Matthews came up with an interception on Mississippi State’s next drive, and the rout was on early in the fourth when Johnson tacked on his fourth touchdown of the day.
Auburn’s outstanding defense continued to pile on with a pick-six of Fitzgerald late in the fourth, as the Tigers ran away with a 49-10 victory. Here’s what we learned from the dominating performance by the Tigers on Saturday night at Jordan-Hare.
Auburn might have a passing offense after all
Stidham and the Tigers’ passing attack looked downright terrible early in the season, but Gus Malzahn should be encouraged by the steady improvement over the last three weeks.
After looking shaky in the opener against Georgia Southern, the much-hyped Baylor transfer turned in a miserable 79-yard performance in the ugly 14-6 loss to Clemson back on Sep. 9. That stat line was certainly more due to a transcendent 11-sack performance by Clemson’s elite defensive line, but Stidham looked totally lost with a slow release and poor decision making.
Stidham turned in his best game of the season in last week’s win over Missouri, and was even more impressive on Saturday with 264 yards and two touchdowns on just 16 pass attempts. Even more importantly, Auburn made a few effective lineup changes on the offensive line prior to the Missouri game and was able to give Stidham adequate protection against Mississippi State’s pressure-heavy defense.
With even the threat of downfield passing to complement a bruising running game, Malzahn’s offense can become a lot more creative and explosive. Auburn’s sky-high upside on offense is finally beginning to show after the ugly start.
Nick Fitzgerald needs some support
Mississippi State fans were right to be excited about the combination of Fitzgerald, head coach Dan Mullen and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, but there’s only so much they can do with a limited roster.
The Bulldogs looked terrific on both sides of the ball in a blowout win over LSU on Sep. 16, with Fitzgerald accounting for four touchdowns against a talented defense. In the two games since, Mississippi State has been overwhelmed by both Georgia and Auburn, and will fall out of the top 25 tomorrow as a result.
Mullen hasn’t gotten much from running back Aeris Williams over the past two games against a pair of stingy defense, and no Bulldogs receiver had more than three receptions on Saturday. While Fitzgerald’s numbers weren’t good in either blowout loss, he can’t use his dynamic dual-threat ability with no support from his skill position players.
The fact that Mississippi State was able to reach a bowl game last year with a depleted roster shows how good Mullen and Fitzgerald can be, but the Bulldogs aren’t a top-25 caliber team with few other bright spots. Two straight blowout losses for Mississippi State might indicate how bad LSU is more than anything else.
Don’t count the Tigers out in the SEC West race
A win over Mississippi State certainly doesn’t put Auburn on the level of Alabama just yet, but the Tigers are starting to play to their full potential and will be a factor in the SEC West.
Malzahn’s team opened both 2015 and 2016 ranked in the top 10 only to turn in disappointing campaigns, so it was understandable if many were skeptical following the week two loss to Clemson. At the very least, Auburn’s defense has proven itself as one of the best units in college football by allowing just 11 points per game so far.
That defense will help the Tigers at least be competitive against Georgia and Alabama later in the season, and they could pull off an upset of either team if the offense continues to generate explosive plays behind a rejuvenated line. As ugly as the Clemson game was, Auburn still only lost by eight points on the road to the defending champions, and should not be overlooked by anyone over the rest of the year.