Associated Press

Offense clicks for No. 13 Auburn in waltz over No. 24 Mississippi State

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When it all clicks, this is what a Gus Malzahn team is supposed to look like.

The 13th-ranked Tigers got an ultra-efficient night from quarterback Jarrett Stidham, a 100-yard effort from running back Kerryon Johnson and a ferocious defensive effort to pound No. 24 Mississippi State 49-10 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Auburn accepted the ball to open the game and immediately raced 75 yards in seven plays — all of them runs. Johnson had the key run, a 59-yarder to take the ball from the Auburn 36-yard line to the Mississippi State 5, and the finisher, a 1-yard plunge. After a fumble on their next possession, Auburn made atonement by again racing nearly the length of the field. This time they moved 77 yards in five snaps, culminating in a 7-yard strike from Stidham to Ryan Davis.

Stidham’s second touchdown pass, a 47-yard strike to Will Hastings, effectively put the game out of reach, staking Auburn to a 21-3 lead with 13:38 left in the second quarter.

The Bullodgs posted their best offensive possession of the night in their final touch of the first half, a 77-yard march capped by a Nick Fitzgerald 5-yard toss to Justin Johnson.

Auburn (4-1, 2-0 SEC) shut the door for good on its first possession of the second half. Just like the start of the game, the Tigers moved the length of the field — literally this time, moving a full 99 yards — to set up a 2-yard Johnson plunge. Johnson added one more 1-yard burst early in the fourth quarter and Javaris Davis put the exclamation point on the night with a 37-yard interception return for a touchdown on the next possession. Backup quarterback Malik Willis completed the scoring with a 67-yard scoring dash with 3:04 to play.

The Tigers’ offense played its best night of the season, as Stidham connected on 13-of-16 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns while Johnson carried 23 times for 116 yards and three scores. The defense punished Fitzgerald throughout the night, limiting him to 13-of-33 passing for 157 yards with a touchdown and two interception plus 13 carries for a hard-earned 56 yards.

For Mississippi State (3-2, 1-2 SEC) the loss serves as a severe and bruising humbling. The Bulldogs were riding high after a 37-7 blowout of LSU in Starkville — a win that has aged like a sippy cup of milk left in your child’s car seat on a July afternoon — Mississippi State has lost consecutive games to top-15 opponents Georgia and Auburn by a combined score of 80-13.

This was a game that looks as we sit here five weeks into the season as a battle for the right to be the second-best team in the SEC West, and it’s clear that Auburn holds that distinction. And with a performance like this, No. 2 may not be all Auburn has to settle for.

Auburn handling Mississippi State at the break

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In a game that looks as we sit here on Sept. 30 every bit like a Second Place Game in the SEC West, Auburn appears to have a clear advantage. The Tigers hold a 21-10 lead over Mississippi State at the break at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Auburn accepted the ball to open the game and immediately raced 75 yards in seven plays — all of them runs. Kerryon Johnson had the key run, a 59-yarder to take the ball from the Auburn 36-yard line to the Mississippi State 5, and the finisher, a 1-yard plunge. After a fumble on their next possession, Auburn made atonement by again racing nearly the length of the field. This time they moved 77 yards in five snaps, culminating in a 7-yard strike from Jarrett Stidham to Ryan Davis.

The Tigers’ third score also came from Stidham’s arm, this time on the first play of a drive, a 47-yard connection to Will Hastings. Stidham is 8-of-10 for 148 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, while Johnson led the Tigers on the ground with 102 yards on 14 carries.

Mississippi State’s offense finally came alive on its final possession of the half. Nick Fitzgerald appeared to race in from 17 yards out at the 2:37 mark of the second quarter, but the ball was pulled back to the 1-foot line upon review. Fitzgerald lost yardage on first-and-goal, and second-and-goal was moved back to the 5-yard line after a false start. The Bulldogs’ second down play went for no gain, but Fitzgerald finally put Mississippi State in the end zone on third-and-goal with a 5-yard toss to Justin Johnson with 59 seconds left. It was the Bulldogs’ first touchdown in six quarters and counting of this top-15 road trip against Georgia and Auburn. Fitzgerald closed the half hitting 8-of-17 passes for 87 yards while rushing five times for 24 yards.

Mississippi State will receive to open the second half.

Anthony Wales runs Western Kentucky past Memphis in Boca Raton Bowl

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The Boca Raton Bowl boiled down, essentially, to one statistic: the ability of Memphis to stop the run. The Tigers ranked a respectable 44th in the country in rushing defense over their eight victories… and a dreadful 125th in their four losses, allowing an average of 372 yards and five touchdowns on 6.7 yards per carry.

Memphis couldn’t stop the run on Tuesday night, and Western Kentucky had its way with the Tigers, ending the best 2-year run in program history with a 51-31 victory.

Playing in his final collegiate game, Anthony Wales recorded the best night of his career. The senior rushed 35 times for a career-high 245 yards and three touchdowns, essentially breaking open what was a tight, 21-17 game himself. Wales’s first scoring dash came at the end of the first half put WKU up by 11 — Memphis would climb no closer than 13 the rest of the night —  his second score pushed the game into blowout territory and his final score, a 1-yard jaunt around right end with 2:18 remaining, ended any hope of a Memphis comeback.

Western Kentucky quarterback Mike White, playing back home in South Florida, was hyper-efficient as usual. White came into the night averaging 10.4 yards per attempt — which would be the most in FBS over the past three years if not for Baker Mayfield‘s 11.1 average — and improved upon that absurd number by completing 20-of-30 passes for 336 yards (that’s 11.2 yards per attempt) with three touchdowns against one interception. And White actually threw four touchdowns but had this beauty taken away by scoring technicality.

That’s offensive tackle Forrest Lamp finding the end zone on what was scored a 9-yard run, giving WKU a 14-10 lead it would not relinquish.

Memphis (8-5) struggled to run the ball, averaging only 2.5 yards on 31 carries, but Riley Ferguson still got his, completing 25-of-43 passes for 372 yards with four touchdowns and one pick.

The win closes a 2-year run under head coach Jeff Brohm — who has already left for Purdue; Nick Holt served as interim head coach on Tuesday — in which the Hilltoppers (11-3) posted a 23-5 overall record, a 17-1 mark against Conference USA competition, two C-USA titles and two bowl victories over American opponents. Those five losses: to No. 5 LSU in 2015, to No. 1 Alabama earlier this season, and losses of three, one, and three points.

What comes next will fall on the shoulders of new head coach Mike Sanford. Considering the trajectory of this program from Willie Taggart to Bobby Petrino to Brohm and now to Sanford, whatever comes next should still be pretty darn good.

Western Kentucky and Memphis in Boca Raton Bowl shootout

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Someone wake up Morty Seinfeld because we’ve got a barnburner in the Boca Raton Bowl.

Western Kentucky holds a 28-17 lead over Memphis and, as the score suggests, each defense has had trouble getting a handle on the opposing offense.

After a three-and-out to open the game, Western Kentucky scored touchdowns on its next four possessions. The Hilltoppers got touchdown passes from Mike White to Stevie Donatell, offensive lineman Forrest Lamp (though this technically went down as a run) and Nicholas Norris and a 2-yard plunge from Anthony Wales.

Western Kentucky had a chance to blow the game open just before the halftime horn. After accepting the ball at their own 15 with 35 seconds left, Western Kentucky appeared to set up to take a knee but instead handed to Wales, who ran mostly unimpeded down the left sideline for 53 yards. White threw to the end zone on the next play but was intercepted in the end zone.

White hit 13-of-18 passes for 184 yards with two touchdowns and one interception, while Wales rushed 15 times for 144 yards and a score.

Memphis scored on two long touchdown passes from Riley Ferguson and, with two field goal attempts from Jake Elliott (one good, one a rare miss), the Tigers have only been truly stopped on a three-and-out to open the game and a four-and-out to close the half. Ferguson has hit 14-of-22 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns, while five Tigers have rushed 16 times for 66 yards.

Purdue could be awfully fun with Jeff Brohm reportedly hired as next coach

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Purdue has its next coach, according to Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman and FootballScoop, and will hire Western Kentucky’s Jeff Brohm.

Brohm engineered an exciting, explosive spread offense with the Hilltoppers, leading Western Kentucky to back-to-back Conference USA titles in 2015 and 2016 and the program’s only two double digit-win seasons. Western Kentucky went 12-2 in 2015 and finished No. 24 in the AP poll, the program’s only top-25 ranking in its 10-year FBS history.

Under Brohm, Western Kentucky’s offense ranked 9th in S&P+ in 2014, 4th in 2015 and 9th in 2016. The high-flying Hilltoppers averaged 44.4, 44.3 and 41.9 points per game in Brohm’s three years.

Making Brohm’s accomplishments in Bowling Green, Ky. more impressive is that he maintained a high level of offensive success from 2015 to 2016 after losing star quarterback Brad Doughty, who threw for over 5,000 yards and 48 touchdowns in the Hilltoppers’ 12-2 2015 campaign. Mike White stepped in this year and threw for 4,027 yards with 34 touchdowns, signaling that Brohm’s system wasn’t successful just because of one good quarterback.

Obviously, Big Ten defenses will be a step up from those Brohm’s teams faced in C-USA. But Purdue does have the advantage of being in the fairly wide-open Big Ten West, in which a team can have a far easier time breaking through than in the brawling Big Ten East. While Wisconsin is a rock-solid program, in any given year getting past Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Northwestern and Illinois is feasible.

This won’t be an immediate turnaround in West Lafayette for Brohm, of course. But this is a program with plenty of offensive success in the last two decades (see: Brees, Drew) that looks like a very, very interesting fit for Brohm.