Mississippi State at Auburn
It's too much of a cliché to go with the "heart of a champion" line, but Auburn showed for the second straight week that it's all about surviving and moving on.
For the second straight week, the Tigers were outplayed, and for the second straight rocky week, they should be 0-2. But they're not, they came up with the huge play needed in the final seconds, and considering there's so much turnover on both sides of the ball and so many key players lost, all that matters is the win. For this Auburn team, at least right now, it doesn't matter how it looks.
Remember, last year, Auburn needed to fight to get by MSU 17-14, and the week after it needed a mini-miracle to get by Clemson. Remember, that team was much better than this one.
There's no question that the Tigers are ultra-talented, thanks to a few huge recruiting classes, but they need time and seasoning. That might come this year, and if they can somehow find a way to get by Clemson next week, all of a sudden, they get a Florida Atlantic team that came up with one first down – one – against Michigan State, and the record will be 4-0 before going to South Carolina.
For Mississippi State, this was the big chance to show it belonged at the big boy table. The offense was perfectly suited to rip apart the Tiger defensive interior – and it did – and this was supposed to be the big statement made before getting LSU at home with a chance to do something really big. Quarterback Chris Relf was brilliant, and Vick Ballard continued to prove he's the best SEC running back you've never heard of, but the defense gave up too many big plays and there were too many mistakes at the wrong time.
However, one big win over LSU next week and everything changes, but there will still be work to do. For Auburn, it knows it can pull out big wins late, and for a young team in a rebuilding year, that means everything.
Auburn may not have the personnel of a national champion, but it sure has the heart of one.
The Tigers are at it again, winning close games that could go either way in the final few minutes. It's hard not to respect this program, for the way it prepares and for the mental toughness it possesses. Sophomore Ryan Smith's textbook tackle at the end of regulation was more than just a game-securing play; it was a microcosm of Gene Chizik's team, coming up big when the outcome hangs in the balance. These first two nail-biters against Utah State and Mississippi State could wind up serving as a launching pad for Auburn. No, not to another SEC—or even a West Division—crown, but to a higher degree of success than most observers anticipated.
The Tigers are still loaded with talent and speed, especially at the running back position. One of the big differences from 2010, though, is that this edition is not nearly as experienced on either side of the ball. However, with each exciting, character-building win, Auburn grows up exponentially. And with confidence comes a more dangerous defending champion as the 2011 season unfolds.
By Matt Zemek
Usually, when players as legendary as Cameron Newton and Nick Fairley move to the NFL, a team will forget how to win. It will lose the competitive DNA that brought about such manifest riches and surpassing glories. Usually, losing anchors – the people you trusted in the heat of battle – makes a difference when the next college football season rolls around. This is the way college football works.
Therefore, when Auburn escaped Utah State at home last week because of the best-executed onside kick in college football history (it really couldn't be topped – that kick was straight from a special teams coaching manual), the Houdini act didn't seem to carry a whole lot of resonance. Auburn got pushed off the line of scrimmage by Utah State, and while week one games shouldn't be taken too seriously, the notion that Auburn was starting over possessed a certain degree of credibility. Few would have argued with such a notion.
Ah, but what to say of the Tigers now? The veteran Mississippi State club that was viewed as an up-and-comer in the SEC West was supposed to be able to sledgehammer the ball and wear down Auburn in the second half… at least, that was one very reasonable way to view this contest. Yet, after a herky-jerky and aberrationally wild first half, it was clearly Auburn which settled down and pounded the ball with more authority after halftime. It was clearly Auburn which asserted itself and looked like the fundamentally superior team. Mississippi State produced a gallant, late scramble, but Auburn fittingly held that line in the heat of a man-making motivational moment.
As an addendum, Auburn quarterback Barrett Trotter was the crisper, more poised quarterback, the more efficient field general despite owning fewer gameday reps under center than MSU's Chris Relf.
Knowing how to win is far more art than science. It can't be taught, but it can certainly be encouraged, and for some programs, the example of great athletes in one year (2010) can flow to the next crop of performers (2011). Auburn is in that place. Gene Chizik has created that subculture, that competitive mindset, all coaches strive to achieve. It's making all the difference for the not-so-diminished Tigers of the Alabama Plains.
By Barrett Sallee
Follow me on Twitter: @BarrettSallee
Well, it's a game of inches. Or in the case of the Mississippi State/Auburn game, it's a game of inch.
Just like Utah State the week before, the Mississippi State offense cut through Auburn's defense like a hot knife through butter to the tune of 531 yards of total offense. It needed 531 yards and one inch.
That stats don't lie, Auburn still has a ton of work to do defensively. But, as the old cliche goes, a team sees the most improvement between Games 1 and 2, and Auburn's defense was no exception. All of the headlines will got to Auburn defensive back Ryan Smith for his stop of Chris Relf at the goal line on the last play of the game, but there was another series that was just as important.
Early in the fourth quarter, on the game's most important drive (at the time), defensive ends Corey Lemonier and Dee Ford took control of the game, coming up with three huge tackles with the Tigers already up 14, allowing what would be precious time tick away for the Bulldogs. It was the kind of series Auburn fans became accustomed to last season, when the Tigers defense as a whole was weak, but the defensive line routinely made big plays in big situations.
For Mississippi State, there is still plenty to build on. Head coach Dan Mullen challenged running back Vick Ballard to win the football game, and he almost did, rushing for 41 yards on four straight carries and one touchdown on Bulldogs' next-to-last drive to get MSU within seven. If you didn't know his name before, you do now; and he's one of the top backs in the SEC.
This was a statement game. Both sides have some leftover hostility because of how the Cam Newton situation worked itself out. As it turns out, the biggest statement of the game is that both of these teams are pretty darn good in 2011, and the SEC West is going to be a wild ride yet again.
By Russ Mitchell
Follow me on Twitter: @RussMitchellCFB
Mississippi State outrushed Auburn 333-235. They outpassed the Tigers 198-146. The had more first downs (31-21), were more efficient on third downs (11-20 v. 4-10), had fewer penalty yards and dominated Time of Possession.
It seemed the only place Mississippi State didn't do better than Auburn was in the final score.
Actually, there was one other area where Auburn did better: Special Teams. Auburn won the field position battle, and it's kickoff coverage was exemplary.
State only had four kickoff returns and averaged just 16 yards. By contrast, Auburn had seven with a 26 yard average.
Relf was solid in this road game - he completed on nearly two-thirds of his attempts (20-33) for 195 yards, with 1 TD/1 INT. He also ran for more than 100 yards.
If you had told us before the game Ballard would add to that 135 yards on 21 carries (6.4 ypc) and a touchdown, I'd have said Auburn was toast.
But the Bulldogs defense showed it really misses it's stud linebacking corps from 2010. The MSU front seven failed to control the ground game, continually giving up big chunks of yards. Auburn's Mike Dyer had a fantastic day, and the Tigers' defense made the stops when they absolutely needed them.
If this game had been played in Starkville, State probably wins. Unfortunately for them, it wasn't.