STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Mississippi State continues to shake up the natural order of things in the SEC West. On Saturday the Bulldogs proved themselves one of the nation’s best with a 38-23 win over Auburn. Here are three thoughts on the game:
1. Mississippi State’s success is no fluke
A week after pounding Texas A&M 48-31, the Bulldogs beat the defending SEC champs. Both teams committed several critical turnovers, but Mississippi State’s offense did a much better job of turning those miscues into points. The Bulldogs are now unblemished halfway through their schedule and halfway through their SEC West slate. There is a strong chance they’ll ascend to No. 1 in the polls and on most playoff projections. However, since the Bulldogs still have three SEC West games to go, that doesn’t mean much.
In two weeks Mississippi State gets the luxury of playing an East Division team. It’s a much-tougher-than-anticipated Kentucky on the road, but it’s still a bit of a break compared to the gauntlet of the past two weeks. That’s exactly what makes it such a dangerous game, though.
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen and his players will have to guard against complacency. They also might want to avoid fake punts deep in their own territory while up three touchdowns. They tried that on Saturday. Mullen joked on Sept. 20, after leaving his backups in too long and almost allowing LSU to come back in an eventual 34-29 Bulldogs victory, that he’s still new at this dominating thing. Maybe that was this week’s lesson. But given the way Mississippi State has played so far, the Bulldogs seem to be learning quickly that they have what it takes to compete for the SEC West title. And the team that wins the SEC West will also probably compete for the national title.
2. Auburn gave away the game in the first quarter
Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall threw a pass directly to Mississippi State safety Jay Hughes on the Tigers’ first play from scrimmage. Hughes returned the ball to the Auburn 34-yard line, and two plays later receiver De’Runnya Wilson caught a Dak Prescott pass, pinballed off an Auburn defender and ran into the end zone.
On Auburn’s next play from scrimmage, Marshall found Duke Williams in the flat, but Bulldogs cornerback Taveze Calhoun hammered Williams, knocking the ball free. Mississippi State linebacker Benardrick McKinney recovered on the Auburn 32. Three plays later Prescott threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Josh Robinson.
The Tigers finally ran a successful play on their next possession, but they couldn’t move the ball past their own 26. They punted, and Prescott led the Bulldogs on a 71-yard touchdown drive that made the score 21-0 with 6:09 left in the first quarter.
3. Mississippi State tried to give the game right back
Leading 21-0 late in the first quarter, the Bulldogs attempted a fake punt in their own territory that ended with Auburn’s Johnathan Ford intercepting punter Logan Cooke and returning the ball to the Mississippi State 36-yard line.
In the second quarter Prescott threw interceptions on consecutive drives. Also, Mississippi State punt returner Jamoral Graham muffed a return and gave Auburn prime field position. The Mississippi State defense played well under hideous circumstances, but Auburn still managed to turn those miscues into 13 points.