September 13, 2008

No. 9 Auburn escapes with 3-2 win

STARKVILLE, Miss. - The Mississippi State defense kept the No. 9 Auburn Tigers out of the end zone and even put up points of its own Saturday night.
But it would not be enough as the Bulldog offense remained dormant letting Auburn escape with a 3-2 win in front of 52,911 at Davis Wade Stadium.

"You could not ask for more out of the defense, you really couldn't," said Mississippi State head coach Sylvester Croom. When they had them backed up, they kept them in the hole. They forced turnovers and they scored our only two points. They played outstanding football."

MSU only tallied 116 yards of offense with 78 yards passing and 38 on the ground the entire evening. The Bulldogs were also 0-for-14 on third down conversions and 0-for-3 on fourth down conversions, including two late in the game.

"It's all about defense when you go on the road," said Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville. "Our guys came to play today. We gave up zero first downs today on 14 chances and only 116 yards total offense. You can win a lot of games that way. Our guys played hard and played with enthusiasm."

The Tigers fumbled twice with less than five minutes to go in the game in their own territory, but still the State offense remained stagnant. The Bulldogs failed to achieve a first down on the first turnover and even went for it on 4th-and-15 from midfield but the pass from Wesley Carroll fell incomplete.

The Mississippi State defense once again came up with a fumble recovery to give their offense one last chance but Carroll was picked off by Walter McFadden on the first play of the drive and the Tigers ran out the remaining time.

"Other than the fact we know we are capable of making these plays, it hurts," Carroll said. "It hurts inside because we know we gave great effort. It wasn't about them outplaying us, they were a great defense but we bottom line beat ourselves."

Auburn totaled 315 yards on offense chewing up 161 yards on the ground and 154 via the air. The Tigers also had trouble on third down offensively converting 3-of-16 third downs and also coughed up the ball three times.

"On offense, we obviously need to go back to the drawing board a little bit but we did make some plays," Tuberville said.

[DB]Ben Tate[/db] ran for 92 yards on 20 attempts and carried the load for Auburn after Brad Lester left the game on a stretcher during the third quarter.

Chris Todd played the entire game under center for the Tigers completing 14-of-26 passing for 154 yards.

Montez Billings led the Auburn receiving corps with three catches for 68 yards.

"He did make some big plays over the middle," Tuberville said of Billings. "They were doubling up on one side and leaving him one-on-one and he is a tall guy that can jump and make plays. I definitely thought he was one bright spot."
After a first quarter stalemate, the Auburn offense finally put points on the board with 7:38 in the second quarter. The Tigers went 39-yards in eight plays to set up a 35-yard Wes Bynum field goal.

Auburn had an opportunity to extend its lead with 19-seconds left before the half. But Bynum's 42-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left leaving the score at 3-0 at intermission.

The Bulldogs got a break to open the second half. Todd fumbled the first play from scrimmage and Derek Pegues fell on the ball at the Auburn 32-yard line.

MSU however was only able to move the ball 11-yards to set up a game-tying 38-yard field goal attempt by Adam Carlson. But holder Blake McAdams could not get the ball down as he would have liked causing the kick to fall short.

"It doesn't matter if it's a clean snap or not, I've got to get it down," McAdams said. "That's my job. It's all three of our jobs to get the snap, hold and the kick but I didn't do my part getting it down."

The Tigers took over and wasted little time driving down to goal line but the State defense again held strong forcing Bynum to take the field once more. Bynum's 18-yard attempt again was shanked left keeping the score 3-0 with 5:36 in the third quarter.

Needing any type of scoring opportunity, the Bulldogs finally got one midway through the fourth quarter. McAdams boomed a 52-yard kick and pinned Auburn at their own three yard line.

On third-and-nine from their own 4-yard line, Auburn's Ryan Pugh was called for holding in his own end zone giving State a safety and the ball back.

Bynum kicked the ball out of bounds setting up the Bulldog offense at midfield to start their next drive. But after going 9-yards in three plays, Croom gambled by going for it on 4th-and-1 and Christian Ducre was stuffed for no gain by Tray Blackmon.

Mississippi State received another opportunity when Jesse Bowman forced Tate to fumble and the ball was recovered by Keith Fitzhugh at the Tiger 47-yard line.

But the Bulldog offense went backwards losing five yards and failed on a 4th-and-15 pass attempt.

The final MSU chance was also set up by the defense when Todd fumbled the football and was alertly fallen on by Cortez McCraney.

But Carroll's heave down the right sideline for Brandon McRae was picked off by McFadden, who tip-toed down the sideline while juggling the catch but remained in long enough to secure the ball.

"I don't blame anybody," Croom said. "I know our coaches are coaching hard and our kids are working hard. The thing about offense is if one guy makes a mistake you have a problem."

Carroll finished the night 10-of-25 for 78 yards and an interception.

Co-Eric Riley led the Bulldog receivers with three catches for 26 yards.

Ducre was the leading rusher with 49 yards on 16 attempts. Anthony Dixon picked up only nine yards on seven tries trying to play through a groin injury that occurred during Thursday's practice.

Bowman and Dominic Douglas paced the State defensive attack with eight tackles each followed by Pegues with seven stops.

Kyle Love made the only sack for the Bulldog defense.

Auburn improves to 1-0 in the Southeastern Conference and 3-0 overall. The Tigers will host LSU on Saturday.

Mississippi State saw its record drop to 1-2 overall and began the SEC slate at 0-1. The Bulldogs will travel to Georgia Tech on Saturday for a 12 p.m. Eastern kickoff.

"We can let one game end our season like this," Pegues said. "We've got nine more games left and we're going to go out and fight hard and hopefully we've still got a chance to win the SEC. We can't let this get us down."

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