Tigers Run—And Throw—Wild On Dogs

They did make some plays, they did make some yards, and they even scored some points. Mississippi State's problem was that anything the Bulldogs did well, Auburn did better. Not to mention oftener, taking a 49-24 victory in both team's SEC opener. The Tigers improved to 2-0 overall while State went to 1-1.

Auburn was able to tilt the field on their first turn, as after Onterio McCaleb ran for one first down a burst by Mario Fannin netted 23 more yards to State's 42-yard line. Had the Tigers run a draw or keeper on 3rd-and-6 they would have found the end zone; as it was Chris Todd's throw was hurried and Auburn punted into the end zone.

The Bulldogs couldn't move the chains on their first try, as a 3rd-and-6 false-start by RG Craig Jenkins made it 11 yards. When flushed QB Tyson Lee was able to scramble for ten of that. Heath Hutchins' punt covered 44 yards to the Tiger 27. This time Auburn took advantage of what they'd seen the previous possession.

After McCaleb got around left end for nine yards, Todd caught State's defense looking for the short run and threw over the middle to Darvin Adams just across the midfield line. Another second down later, he went into the left flat with a throw that cleared CB Marcus Washington's outstretched hand. Adams was able to make a 29-yard gainer of it down to the Bulldog 16. From there the quarterbacks did all the running, with Kodi Burns inserted for three of the four keeper-snaps. The last broke the plane at 8:13 for a 7-0 Tiger lead.

WR Leon Berry's kickoff return out of the end zone had State starting on their 28 with Chris Relf at quarterback. He too ran on a third-and-long, though on purpose, and came up two yards short. Hutchins' second punt was caught at the same 27-yard line as the first. Auburn advanced to State's 47 on two good Fannin runs before the series stalled. But the punt was downed at the one-yard line.

Two Dixon runs left a 3rd-and-5, and this time State stayed on the turf. A daring option-pitch to Ducre got the first down at the 13. But three snaps later, needing seven yards to keep the ball, Relf threw the sort of low-liner he'd gotten away with against Jackson State. A SEC defensive end, 261-pound Antonio Coleman, had dropped into short coverage and had no problems picking the throw. He ran for the right pylon 20 yards away and got there at 2:21.

Starting at the 17, Dixon got six yards before cracking left end for 27 more to the midfield mark. A facemask call on Auburn—ironically against Coleman--when Lee was flushed made for a free first down. The second quarter found State with 3rd-and-13 at the Tiger 35, and Lee under pressure. He stayed focused and while the throw was high WR Brandon McCrae somehow came down with it and stayed inbounds, tippy-toeing down the sideline to the Auburn 16.

Dixon punched out a quick 11 yards, then two totes (the second initially ruled a touchdown but corrected under review) had the ball a foot away on third down. Then fourth down as the Tiger line held. On 4th-and-goal Dixon came out of the wishbone at left tackle and dove across at 12:05 for a 14-7 scoreboard.

Todd's open target on 3rd-and-6 let the perfect throw clank off his chest, and the punt was shanked giving State possession at the 50-yard line. Lee got off another tough throw, to WR Leon Berry for 12 yards; then Relf was subbed-in for a second down keeper. He did it beautifully, freezing the defense and seeing the big seam up the left hashmark for 26 yards.

The first-and-goal at the ten didn't last long though as RT Addison Lawrence was caught holding. Third down found State at the 12 and Lee at quarterback. His throw over the middle forced for TE Marcus Green was tipped at the line, probably a good thing as coverage was waiting. Sean Brauchle knocked through the 29-yard field goal at 7:20 for the 14-10 score.

Auburn got a first-down scamper from McCaleb to their 37 before penalties and incompletes forced a punt. State sent a whole pack right up the middle and FB Patrick Hanrahan got their first, stuffing both punt and punter. RB Robert Elliot was able to scoop the ball at his leisure and run the remaining yards to give the Bulldogs the 17-14 lead at 4:44.

It lasted to 3:08. The Tigers could play some option themselves and a pitch to Tate around right end netted 17 yards to State's 37. Three routine rushes later Auburn was on State's 48 with second down. This time the pitch went to left side and to McCaleb. Once past S Zach Smith's last-chance lunge the rookie runner was gone for the touchdown and 21-17 lead.

State got a first down as Lee hooked up with Berry for 11 yards, then Auburn used two timeouts saving clock in case of a punt. It came at 1:35 after Dixon was dragged down a long yard short of the marker, but coverage on Hutchins' 44-yarder forced a fair catch at the 22. There were 89 seconds left in the half.

By the time the clock showed 0:21 the Tigers were on State's on-yard line. Big completions to Adams did the damage as he worked the left sideline for gainers of 21 and 28 yards; then went to the other side of the field and beat CB Damein Anderson and safety Smith for a 21-yard catch one yard shy of the goal. Auburn called time. Burns subbed-in to take the snap and scramble around right end for the touchdown and 28-17 halftime advantage.

The intermission yardage was more lopsided than the score, with 314 offensive yards for Auburn to 171 for State on just six more plays. It was all the big breakers by McCaleb and Adams (already 116 yards on 5 catches) making the difference.

State's opening series of the new half self-destructed on unforced penalties, so Hutchens had to unload a 49-yarder down to the Tiger 18. Bang-bang runs of 11 (McCaleb) and 10 (Tate) yards dug Auburn out easily enough, until facing a 4th-and-9 at their 40. Except the Tigers faked the punt, with McCaleb taking the direct snap and scooting by Chris Cameron for 19 yards down to State's 41. The home didn't cash in on the opportunity but a fair-caught punt at the 13-yard had reversed the field position.

Dixon snapped off a quick first down so that Hutchins had room to punt. And his 48-yarder almost came back to State's way when Demond Washington fumbled as Smith arrived with the ball, but he recovered at Auburn's 19. After two quick dives into the middle, Tate took the 3rd-and-2 handoff and bounced around right end for 21 yards to the 50-stripe. State tackled him later by the facemask for first down at the 29.

Then it was McCaleb's turn for a facemask tackle and placement at the 13-yard line. After pounding the ground so well, Todd convinced the Dog defense the play was going right; where he stepped to the left and saw tight end Phillip Litzenkirchen completely alone in the end zone at 3:52. The kick pushed Auburn out in front 35-17.

Berry let the kickoff go out of bounds so his offense could start at their 40. It didn't help as two passes were off hands and Lee was chased down trying to throw a third. Hutchens hit it 48 yards with Washington fielding cleanly for a nine-yard return. Burns ran for one first down and Jay Wisner was left uncovered on the sideline for another. Tate did the rest, slashing State's right side for a 35-yard touchdown at 1:19 of the quarter.

Berry fumbled the kickoff yet still managed a return to the 44 and needed only shed one more arm to go the distance. In any event the Bulldogs were able to get something going in the second half at last as Relf directed most of a 10-play drive for the rest of the distance. He hit McRae and WR Chad Bumphis to convert a couple of third downs, then found Berry floating free out left for a easy catch and better run down to the Tiger three. Relf dove twice and came up with a sore knee the second time, so Lee hurried in and with Auburn thinking another dive play was able to play-action Ducre open at the goal line for the one-yard touchdown toss at 11:15.

That was all State had to celebrate between halftime and final horn though. And Auburn muted it anyway with a grinding 75-yard series with Tate doing the early damage. When Todd did drop back for a 3rd-and-7 throw he slung it away with Chaney in his face…and Zachery was able to run unchallenged under the bomb 33 yards down the right sideline. Five rushes later Burns did the touchdown honors at 5:56 for the final margin of Tiger victory.

The only remaining interest was purely statistical as Fannin did most of the Auburn running to end up with 75 yards. The last minute though saw losses on Tiger rushes that did keep them under the 600 mark. Tate out-ran teammate McCaleb 157 yards to 114 on four more carries, while Burns scored three touchdowns in his nine carries. Todd was 10-of-23, not a great average, but his completions went for 186 yards.

Dixon, in his first action of the year, had 92 yards on 20 carries with a touchdown and had not the game gotten out of third-quarter control would have surely cracked 100 yards. Relf ran for 52 more yards, netting over seven-per in the process. But he was 5-of-11 throwing with a pair of picks. Lee was 6-of-10 for 53 yards and his first passing score of the season.

State's top two stars of the setback came on special teams. Hutchins averaged 45.2 on his six punts, while Berry returned various kicks for 186 yards and had 60 more receiving.

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