AUBURN, Ala. — For the second consecutive week, Auburn football put together a blowout win in SEC play that would’ve looked out of place at any other time in Gus Malzahn’s tenure.
No. 13 Auburn crushed No. 24 Mississippi State 49-10, giving the Tigers back-to-back SEC wins of 30-plus points for the first time since 1987. Much like the rout at Missouri a week ago, Auburn dominated its conference foe Saturday night thanks to its downfield passing game and defense — two areas that have been notable weaknesses in the past.
Those days seemed long gone against Mississippi State, as Auburn took care of business in nearly every category of an explosive and efficient victory. Now the Tigers will head into the second month of their season with reason to believe they can live up to preseason expectations and contend in the SEC.
As the Sunday morning tradition goes here at SEC Country, this is the position-by-position report card from Auburn’s rout over Mississippi State. Remember, the rubric gives an A-plus to legendary performances, a C for average ones, and an F for complete failures.
Not since Cam Newton has Auburn seen a more efficient passing performance than the one Jarrett Stidham delivered Saturday night. Stidham only threw 3 incompletions and had 4 passes of 40-plus yards to four different receivers. He averaged 16.5 yards per attempt — 1.4 yards more than Newton had in his career-best efficiency game, which came against Chattanooga.
Stidham wasn’t flawless against Mississippi State — he was 13-for-16 passing for 264 yards — but he was close. For the second consecutive week, he delivered the deep balls Auburn’s offense missed over the last several seasons. And, for the second week in a row, his backup, Malik Willis, got to put on a show in a blowout. This time, the freshman turned on the jets for a 67-yard touchdown run that capped a memorable blowout.
Running backs: C
The running backs get a C here because it seemed like the few positive moments were canceled out by negatives. Kerryon Johnson scored two touchdowns and broke a 59-yard run early, but he only had one run for longer than 6 yards on his other 22 attempts. Over half of them went for 3 yards or less.
Kamryn Pettway was clearly hurt, and he didn’t have much business playing with just 6 yards and a fumble on 5 carries. Kam Martin was held out due to injury, which handicapped the rushing attack. Devan Barrett and Malik Miller each recorded impressive runs in their limited work. The C grade might be generous here, as Auburn didn’t have its usual punch from its banged-up running backs Saturday night.
Wide receivers: A-plus
In the first two weeks of the season, Auburn’s receivers were having an issue getting separation. That’s changed, as the Tigers got open quite a bit for big plays against Mississippi State. Seven different receivers caught passes from Stidham, and four different ones were responsible for the four biggest plays. Will Hastings made a beautiful double move to get open for his score.
Ryan Davis kept things churning with his short-yardage catches, including a remarkable diving touchdown in the first quarter. Kyle Davis, Darius Slayton and Eli Stove all made impressive plays downfield, and Stove got loose for a long rushing play as well. Auburn’s receivers had zero drops and played their best game in quite some time Saturday night.
Offensive line: A-minus
Auburn changed things up front with Darius James returning to the starting lineup, which bumped Austin Golson to left tackle and Prince Tega Wanogho to blocking tight end duties. In pass protection, this appeared to be ideal change. Auburn only allowed a pair of sacks — although one went for a fumble that should’ve been ruled a touchdown — and gave Stidham all the time he needed for those deep balls.
New starting center Casey Dunn looked good again up front, and he sprang some plays with his push against a tough Mississippi State interior line. Still, there’s something missing from Auburn’s run blocking against legitimate defensive fronts. Auburn averaged a little more than 2 yards per carry on most of their runs Saturday.
Defensive line: A
For the third consecutive week, Auburn’s opponent tried to limit the impact of its defensive line with quick passes. The Tigers only came up with two sacks — both from the defensive line, through Jeff Holland and Big Kat Bryant — but they were constantly in Nick Fitzgerald’s face. Auburn had 11 quarterback hurries, with all but two of them recorded by linemen.
Auburn didn’t need to blitz to pressure Fitzgerald. Holland and Nick Coe each had four hurries themselves. The defensive line was responsible for three of Auburn’s five tackles for loss and played a big part in keeping Mississippi State’s rushing attack in check. Once again, it all started up front for Auburn.
Even without senior leader Tre’ Williams for a second consecutive week, Auburn kept things humming at linebacker. Deshaun Davis, Montavious Atkinson and Darrell Williams were first, second and third in tackles. Davis and Williams almost kept Mississippi State out of the end zone in the second quarter with their goal-line stands.
Mississippi State slipped past the linebackers a few times for big plays. But on the majority of the snaps, Auburn’s linebackers were dominant. That’s impressive, especially considering Auburn didn’t have its top tackler yet again. This unit just rotates without a hitch, week after week.
Defensive backs: A-plus
Sure, Auburn allowed a passing touchdown. But this was still the best pass defense performance against a quality opponent in quite some time. Mississippi State only completed 35 percent of its passes — the lowest for an Auburn opponent since 2014 against LSU — and it wasn’t like the Bulldogs were wildly inaccurate. The Auburn secondary had 11 pass breakups and 2 interceptions.
Carlton Davis put his matchup on lockdown all night and had four of those pass breakups. Javaris Davis returned from injury to break up two passes and take his interception back for a touchdown. Stephen Roberts continued his strong senior season with a key breakup and yet another tackle for loss. This was a new high mark for a unit that was a punchline just a few seasons ago.
Special teams: A-minus
Auburn might just have its new punter. Walk-on Aidan Marshall impressed Malzahn enough in practice this week to get the start over the inconsistent Ian Shannon. Marshall’s three punts were solid, and Auburn downed two of them inside the Mississippi State 20-yard line.
Daniel Carlson couldn’t follow up a strong game last week, putting his lone 51-yard attempt off the left upright. Roberts made a heads-up play to pick up a deflected punt from one of his teammates on the fly, and Noah Igbinoghene had two decent kick returns. Daniel Thomas ripped down a fake punt try, making it two consecutive weeks of stonewalling tricks for these specialists.
Auburn’s defense had a specific plan for Fitzgerald, and it executed it to near-perfection Saturday night. Mississippi State couldn’t get any momentum on offense as Auburn hit big play after big play on its side. Chip Lindsey called another excellent game, and a few of his risky choices — a deep ball at the 1-yard line, a fourth-down touchdown run, and a reverse pass out of the wildcat — worked well.
The running back situation continues to be an odd one in terms of the coaching staff. Auburn clearly didn’t need to run Pettway. But Malzahn can be extremely pleased with another SEC blowout win, and his Tigers will be rolling into October with plenty of momentum after a shaky start.
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