They were unlucky. The calls didn’t go their way. It was on the road in a tough environment.
These are the kinds of excuses you will hear from Auburn fans after Saturday’s 23-9 loss at unranked Mississippi State.
There’s no question the Auburn defense has the potential, but it can’t win games without any support. After failing to score a touchdown, and rushing for under 100 yards for third straight week, it could be time to panic for Gus Malzahn.
The Tigers (4-2 overall, 1-2 conference), who were previously ranked No. 8 in the country entering the weekend, fell to No. 21 in the AP poll Sunday after losing their second conference game of the season, both of which have been opponents in the SEC West division, all but ending the preseason aspirations of a potential SEC championship.
Let’s hand out some grades from Saturday night:
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The mistake-prone Auburn offense keeps waiting for Jarrett Stidham to have that breakout game. They’ll have to wait another week.
Stidham, as we have seen most of this season, has yet to find any rhythm and continues to struggle with his accuracy, which used to be his calling card. The offensive line is a mess, but even when they give Stidham enough time, he misses completions that should be made by a starting SEC quarterback. The junior QB overthrew a wide open Darius Slayton in the second quarter Saturday night on what would have been a walk-in touchdown and massive momentum shift for the Tigers.
Stidham finished with 214 yards on 19-of-38 passing.
“Boobee” Whitlow is the only reason the running backs scored above a C against Miss State.
On the first three drives of the game, in which Kam Martin was on the field because of Whitlow’s lingering shoulder injury, the Auburn offense was completely ineffective. Whitlow entered for the fourth drive of the game and immediately made an impact. Apart from fumbling the ball at the goal-line into the back of the end zone on what could have been a 43-yard touchdown run, Whitlow looked explosive and ran the ball effectively, and efficiently all night.
“Boobee” is not off the hook entirely, however. The redshirt freshman had a handful of crucial drops, including one on third-and-7 on the potential game-tying drive in the fourth quarter which eventually led to an Auburn turnover on downs.
Whitlow finished with eight carries for 88 yards, and one reception for three yards.
It was a quiet night for the receivers, mostly because Stidham was overthrowing them every other play. There weren’t any big mistakes from the wide outs; they were rarely given the opportunity due to Stidham and the offensive play calling to go up and make a play.
Both veterans Ryan Davis and Slayton had solid performances despite the offense’s ineffectiveness. Davis led the team with eight receptions for 91 yards and Slayton added four receptions for 58 yards.
There isn’t much else to say for this offensive line. The only positive is they moved up a letter grade from last week’s performance, earning a D instead of an F.
There was minor improvement, but this unit is still leaps and bounds away from being able to pass block or run block consistently. The offense failed to convert a first down until the 3:23 mark in the third quarter, Stidham was sacked three times, and the Tigers only managed to rush for 90 yards.
The last time an Auburn team failed to eclipse 100 yards rushing in three straight games was 1999.
FRONT SEVEN: C-
Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele described it as "unacceptable."
For a defense that strives to be the best in the conference each week, Saturday’s performance just wasn’t good enough.
People will say the Bulldogs’ had questionable touchdown calls upheld, and that they spent almost 42 minutes on the field so they were tired. That’s no excuse for giving up 349 yards on the ground. The Miss State offensive line dominated Auburn’s front seven all night.
Miss State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald rushed for 195 yards alone and set the record for most rushing yards by a quarterback in the SEC. The Bulldog running backs accounted for a combined 154 yards.
The secondary was lone bright spot for the Tigers defense Saturday night.
Auburn held Fitzgerald to 9-of-17 passing, and only 69 yards with one interception. Saferty Jeremiah Dinson was the standout with 15 tackles, while also picking off Fitzgerald in the second quarter to force the only Miss State turnover of the game.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-
Special teams were up-and-down Saturday night.
Davis’ muffed punt in the first half gave the Bulldogs a short field, leading to their first touchdown drive of the game. But Marlon Davidson’s field-goal block, followed by Daniel Thomas’ return into Miss State territory gave the Tigers a chance to steal a win back in the fourth quarter.
Apart from one 50-yard miss, freshman kicker Anders Carlson hit three field goals, accounting for all nine of the Tigers’ points.
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