By JOEL COLEMAN
Hip hop megastar Flo Rida no-showed Bulldog Bash on Friday night in Starkville’s Cotton District. For much of Saturday, it appeared Mississippi State wasn’t going to show up on its home field for its game against Auburn either.
The Bulldogs were dominated and, at times, flat out embarrassed in a 38-14 loss to the Tigers at Davis Wade Stadium. Auburn manhandled State for much of the day on the way to its biggest win over MSU since a 25-point victory over the Bulldogs in head coach Dan Mullen’s first season at State back in 2009.
“The whole game starts up front,” Mullen said. “(Auburn) physically won the line of scrimmage. You’re not going to win many football games not winning the line of scrimmage.”
The Tigers (4-2, 2-1) had their way with the Bulldogs (2-3, 1-2) almost from the opening kick. Auburn’s big day started as the Tigers avoided damage following a turnover on their opening possession. Three plays into the game, MSU safety Kivon Coman picked off a pass from Auburn quarterback Sean White. Coman returned the ball to the Auburn 19-yard line.
Ultimately, the Bulldogs came up empty on their possession as kicker Westin Graves’ 28-yard field goal attempt was wide. The Tigers then grabbed the momentum and basically never gave it back.
“Kivon made a good play and we had the momentum,” MSU wide receiver Keith Mixon said. “We should have been up 7-0. I think that would have turned the game around and it could’ve been a completely different game.”
Instead of taking a lead, MSU quickly fell into a hole that just kept getting deeper and deeper. Auburn reeled off 35 unanswered points in what was a completely devastating first half for State. Over the first two quarters, Auburn had 335 yards of total offense to MSU’s 91.
Tigers backup running back Kamryn Pettway, in the game after starter Kerryon Johnson left early with an injury, had 125 first-half rushing yards and three touchdowns. Auburn quarterback Sean White completed 13 of his 16 passes in the first half for 185 yards and a score.
The Tigers defense got in on the scoring action as well. With 1:45 left in the second quarter, defensive lineman Montravius Adams recovered a fumble from MSU quarterback Nick Fitzgerald and returned it 13 yards for a score.
In all facets of the game, Auburn had its way with the Bulldogs in the first two quarters. The MSU offense couldn’t sustain a drive and the Bulldog defense couldn’t slow down the Tigers.
“There were just silly things that kept happening to us,” MSU linebacker Richie Brown said of the first half. “There were silly penalties. They were out-toughing some of our guys.”
Mississippi State recovered somewhat after halftime. The Bulldogs finally cracked the scoreboard with 5:48 remaining in the third quarter when Fitzgerald hit receiver Keith Mixon on a 37-yard touchdown strike for Mixon’s first career score. State crept even closer in the opening moments of the fourth quarter when Fitzgerald connected with Fred Ross for a touchdown from eight yards out.
“In the first half, we didn’t make plays and we didn’t execute to the best of our ability,” Fitzgerald said. “Going into halftime, we thought, ‘Don’t let go of the rope,’ as Coach Mullen would say. We couldn’t let it get out of hand. We had to go out on the field with pride in what we do and show it on the field and whatever happens, happens.”
State’s late run couldn’t get the Bulldogs any closer. Auburn capped the day’s scoring with a Daniel Carlson 25-yard field goal with 1:39 left.
When the clock ran out, MSU could take pride in its second-half push, but the concerns raised in the first half now linger heading into this Friday night’s game at BYU.
Mullen has one day less than usual to help his team make corrections and fix mistakes to prevent showings like Saturday’s from happening again.
“We’ve got to make sure we get all that stuff fixed because we have a really short week,” Mullen said. “We’re going to have to turn around quick, get guys healthy and go play next Friday night.”