Auburn sophomore defensive back Ryan Smith stopped Mississippi State (1–1) senior quarterback Chris Relf on the last play of the game just inches from the goal line to secure Auburn’s 41–34 victory.
“Again, just coming down to the last play and fighting, scratching and clawing for every inch, you have a heavyweight fight, 15 rounds, last man standing,” said coach Gene Chizik. “That’s what you have to do to be able to win these games.
Auburn put the first points on the board first thanks to good field position because of Mississippi State penalties. Thirty of the Bulldogs’ 75 penalty yards came in the first quarter.
With Mississippi State’s strong defensive line and lack of experience in its offensive line, Auburn moved the ball downfield by going outside throughout the game.
After picking up a first down at the 20 yard line, Auburn was pushed back to the 35 because of a personal foul penalty. The next play, sophomore running back Michael Dyer took the ball to the right side for a 35-yard touchdown to give Auburn the 7–0 lead.
The following Mississippi State possession also turned into a score for the Tigers. On second down and nine, Relf’s pass intended for junior receiver Chad Bumphis hit the back of junior defensive back T’Sharvan Bell’s helmet. As the ball floated in the air, sophomore defensive back Demetruce McNeal pulled it down in mid-stride toward the end zone. After dodging several Bulldogs, McNeal gave Auburn the 14–0 lead with the 43-yard interception.
With the double-digit lead, Auburn’s defense began to struggle. The Bulldogs capitalized, scoring two touchdowns on drives that equaled 129 yards.
Mississippi State put together a three-play, 62-yard drive in just over a minute to get on the board. Relf completed the drive with a 40-yard pass to sophomore running back LaDarius Perkins in the left side of the end zone.
After Auburn failed to gain a first down, the Bulldogs tied the game with a 15-yard pass from Relf to junior wide receiver Brandon Heavens.
With the game tied, junior quarterback Barrett Trotter had his first miscue of the season. Trotter’s attempted pass to junior wide receiver DeAngelo Benton was intercepted by junior defensive back Johnthan Banks and taken back 27 yards for a score, giving Mississippi State its first lead of the game.
Auburn responded with back-to-back scoring drives to regain the lead after Mississippi State went three-and-out twice.
“We moved up on offense this week,” Trotter said. “We established a run game. I feel like our offensive line did a really great job on that. I feel like the areas where we were weak last week were really stepped up.”
Auburn scored on a big reception by junior Emory Blake, who weaved in and out of the defense until reaching the end zone on the 46-yard touchdown.
The Tigers scored close to six minutes later on a quick drive that stretched 59 yards in six plays. Dyer rushed for 28 of those yards, punching in the touchdown from two yards out.
The Tigers defense handled the lead with a stop inside their own red zone after Mississippi State drove 70 yards, partially fueled by a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty on Auburn. Mississippi State’s senior kicker Derek DePasquale made it a 28–24 game with his 27-yard field goal.
“There were some really great things that happened today,” said defensive coordinator Ted Roof. “We played good in spurts. We weren’t consistent. You have to be able to find a way, and it happened to be a goal-line stand.”
Just before the half, Auburn showed its two-minute offense against Utah State was not a fluke.
In 35 seconds, Trotter led Auburn 54 yards in five plays. The drive provided sophomore Cody Parkey a 43-yard field goal, which he made to give Auburn the 31–24 lead heading to halftime.
Auburn and Mississippi State both started the second half with drives that stalled, resulting in field goals.
However, the Tigers broke the streak on their next drive, which spanned 92 yards on 10 plays. The drive was completed with a 10-yard touchdown catch by junior tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, boosting Auburn’s lead to 41–27.
Although the game appeared to be all but over, the Bulldogs had other plans.
After Auburn went three and out, Mississippi State started a drive that lasted the final 2:52 of the game and went 66 yards on 11 plays.
After a 16-yard pass by senior running back Vick Ballard on a trick play, Mississippi State had first and 10 on Auburn’s 13 yard line. After an option by Relf and Ballard, it was first and goal on the one yard line.
Sophomore defensive end Craig Sanders said Roof called for a defensive package with six defensive linemen.
“It was a package to stop the run,” Smith said.
On first and goal, Ballard lost a yard after being stopped at an attempt up the middle.
After a Mississippi State time out, there were only 10 seconds left on the clock.
Relf took the snap and ran the option to the left.
“I knew he was going to keep the ball,” Smith said. “He’d been keeping it all day.”
As Relf approached the goal line, Smith lowered his shoulders and drove the quarterback into the ground. Relf’s elbow hit in front of the goal line, snuffing his chances to reach for the score.
Coaches and players were happy that Smith, a player who has faced hard times in the past, made the winning tackle.
“It meant a lot to me,” Smith said. “God helped me through a lot of stuff and just held my hand through a lot of stuff that I was going through, so just to bounce back, I’m glad to be back.”
Auburn makes its first road trip next week as it travels to Clemson.
“There are more tough games to come, and this helps us prepare for those,” Blake said.