It was more of the same for the Auburn offense Saturday night. The Tigers dominated Mississippi State 49-10 to move to 4-1 and improve to 2-0 in the SEC. Auburn jumped on the Bulldogs early and never looked back.
Let’s hand out some grades:
Jarrett Stidham continues to impress. For the third straight game, he put up big numbers through the air. Stidham finished 13-of-16 for 264 yards and two touchdowns. He has now completed 58 of his last 70 pass attempts, which is good for an 83 percent completion rate. For the second week in a row, the key for the offense was hitting on big shots down the field, and the sophomore has been hitting on all cylinders and getting more comfortable week by week.
To top it off, the backup freshman Malik Willis also came in and rushed for a 67-yard touchdown on the read-option play.
Running Backs: B+
Kerryon Johnson stole the show for the second week in a row. After a five-touchdown performance at Missouri, Johnson rushed for three more against Mississippi State. He rushed for 116 yards on 23 carries. Kamryn Pettway fumbled one of his five carries, but he was not 100 percent and probably should not have been in the game in the first place. Devan Barrett also looked explosive, gaining 20 yards on two carries. The running backs are the key in a Gus Malzahn team, and wins in the conference usually go as they go. For now, Kerryon Johnson and company seem to be hitting their stride.
Wide Receivers: A
Big plays were the story all night for the offense. Five receivers had at least one catch. Ryan Davis led the team with six receptions for 32 yards, and one touchdown off a screen pass inside the 10-yard line. Four receivers had a reception of over 45 yards. Eli Stove, Kyle Davis, Darius Slayton, and Will Hastings all gashed the Bulldog secondary down the field. Auburn offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey brought out a flea-flicker on 3rd-and-2 which found Slayton streaking down the field for 49-yards. Hastings may have run the best route of the night on a 47-yard touchdown pass, leaving the Mississippi State safety in the dust on a double-move to put the Tigers up 21-3. The Tigers young receiving core are starting to grow up, and make plays week by week for their quarterback.
Offensive Line: B-
There was a shakeup on the offensive line Saturday night. Austin Golson, Mike Horton, Casey Dunn, Braden Smith and Darius James started for the Tigers and, if they continue to perform, then this should be the starting lineup for the rest of the season. Against a defensive front that is as good as Mississippi State, the O-line wasn’t perfect, but they played well. They protected Stidham for the most part, only giving up two sacks, and gave the running backs enough holes to run through in order to establish a run game early. This unit needs to continue to get better, especially in pass-protection, with familiar foes Georgia and Alabama still to come.
Defensive Line/ Linebackers: A-
The defense was dominant again, even without its leader Tre’ Williams, showing why they are one of the best units in the country. Defensive end Nick Coe led the D-line with six tackles and four quarterback hurries. Marlon Davidson added five tackles, and Jeff Holland continued his breakout season off the edge, finishing with a sack and four quarterback hurries. Linebacker Deshaun Davis led the team with 10 tackles, and Montavious Atkinson and Darrell Williams each had seven stops. This is the only unit in the country that has not given up more than 14 points all year.
Defensive Backs: A+
This was the most complete performance all year for Kevin Steele’s secondary. They only gave up 157 yards in the air, and forced two turnovers against Nick Fitzgerald. Tray Matthews made a diving interception off of a deflection, and Javaris Davis had a pick-six that gave the Tigers a commanding 42-10 lead. Daniel Thomas and Stephen Roberts each had five tackles. Cornerbacks Jamel Dean and Carlton Davis both were dialed in on coverage all night. Davis tallied four pass breakups. It’s refreshing to finally see an Auburn defense with a reliable secondary.
Special Teams: C
Not a good night for the special teams. There weren’t any huge mistakes, but there were plenty of things that need to get better moving forward in conference play. Kyle Davis almost cost Auburn the ball when he made contact with a punt, but the Tigers recovered. There was a mishap on a PAT when the holder couldn’t handle the snap, and Daniel Carlson missed a 51-yard field goal off the left upright. The one bright spot was the special teams defense stuffing another fake punt on fourth down.