Defenses dominate in 3-2 Auburn win

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2008

STARKVILLE — Mississippi State’s defense was great, Auburn’s was better.

The No. 9 Auburn Tigers came up with three, fourth-down stops in the second half and a key interception in the final two minutes to preserve a 3-2 decision over the Bulldogs Saturday night at Scott Field.

Bulldog quarterback Wesley Carroll said the Tigers were fast on defense, but the State offense still had its chances.

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“We were one play away all night. One play for a touchdown, but we didn’t make a play,” Carroll said. “Auburn has tremendous team speed on defense. They were tough.”

Carroll finished 10-of-25 for 79 yards. Mississippi State was held to 116 yards on 55 plays and had just six first downs.

MSU coach Sylvester Croom said there were two plays where his Bulldogs didn’t come through.

“We missed an assigment on that fourth-and-one and then the interception on the start-and-go route,” Croom said. “It was a disappointing loss for us. Our defense played extremely well, with the exception of one bad play at the end when (Ben) Tate got loose.

“We fought hard for all 60 minutes. We had chances, but didn’t make the play.”

State’s defense recovered two fumbles in the final five minutes, but its offense could not get a first down against the quick Tigers.

The first came with 4 minutes, 39 seconds left after safety Keith Fitzhugh snapped up a Tate fumble at the Auburn 47. Carroll, though, was sacked for a 5-yard loss and then threw three straight incompletions.

The last was on a fourth-and-15 from the 48 as Croom declined to punt.

It worked out as Auburn fumbled another exchange just three plays later. On first down from the State 34, Carroll went long to Brandon McRae, but Auburn’s Walter McFadden won the jump ball at the Auburn 18 with 2:19 remaining.

State (1-2) got its only points when an offensive holding penalty was called against Auburn (3-0) in the end zone resulting in a safety. The score made it 3-2 with 7:09 left.

After the free kick, a 15-yard late hit moved the ball to midfield. The Bulldogs, however, could not get the first down as a fourth-and-1 sneak was pushed back.

It took 22 1/2 minutes before a score was recorded. Both teams exchanged four punts before Auburn finally managed to cash in some good starting field position.

Chris Todd hit Montez Billings on a 30-yard post pattern to the Bulldog 25. An 11-yard run by Brad Lester got to the 11. Then two false start penalties stalled the drive and the Tigers settled for a 35-yard field goal by Wes Byrum with 7:22 left in the second quarter for a 3-0 lead.

Todd hit another 30-yard pass to set up a 42-yard Byrum kick, but it missed wide left to leave the score at 3-0 going into halftime.

State got its first break of the game when Todd fumbled an exchange and the Bulldogs recovered at the Auburn 32. Carroll was sacked on the first down play but a pass interference on the Tigers moved the ball to the 24.

The Bulldogs got just four more yards and settled for a 38-yard field goal that missed wide, leaving Auburn in front 3-0 with 12:16 left in the third quarter.

Following a 10-minute delay that saw Auburn’s Lester carted off with an apparent neck injury, the Bulldogs forced a short punt, taking over at the Auburn 46.