You know it’s bad when the home team scores a long touchdown on their first play from scrimmage. You know it’s bad when your mascot is literally run out of the building by opposing players. You know it’s bad when you lose your starting quarterback and give up six scoring drives in the first half.
Yes, it was pretty bad for Joe Moorhead and Mississippi State and that all came well before the head coach drew an unsportsmanlike penalty to put the cherry on top of a 56-23 beatdown on the Plains Saturday night as No. 7 Auburn flexed a few muscles and showed they can’t be discounted in the College Football Playoff race either.
The Tigers looked like the offense many expected to see under Gus Malzahn this year with explosive rushing plays galore and a shockingly efficient evening throwing the ball from their freshman quarterback, Bo Nix. The youngster had his best outing of the still-young season in throwing for 335 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for another 56 yards and a score. As impressive as the signal-caller was though, his supporting cast was even better at getting into space and making MSU pay with big plays or trips to the end zone.
Tailback JaTarvious Whitlow scored on AU’s first offensive snap and made two other trips across the goal line to go along with 55 yards on the night. Wideout Anthony Schwartz found pay dirt off a keeper on the ground while hauling in two catches for 67 yards while Seth Williams had a monster night through the air with eight receptions for 161 yards and two touchdowns. Kam Martin chipped in with a rushing TD as well.
In short, everything that could go right for Auburn’s offense, probably did aside from three lost fumbles that had zero impact on the final score.
As outclassed as Mississippi State seemed to be throughout the game, the team never could catch even the slightest of breaks to get back into the action. Quarterback Tommy Stevens exited yet again (lower leg injury) and was replaced by Garrett Shrader, who provided an early spark (209 yards, two touchdowns while rushing for 82 yards and a score) but couldn’t keep up with the pace set by the Tigers against a much better defense on the other side. The result sets up a long off week for the Bulldogs before their trip to Knoxville to take on Tennessee.
As for Auburn, they also hit the road for their next game and will head to the Swamp for what will be a huge battle against Florida next Saturday. That test should prove much tougher than the one they just passed against MSU as it’s the first of (as many as four) top 10 battles the Tigers have left on the docket. Based on how they played on the Plains, they’ll have a pretty good shot at doing some damage the rest of the way in those games to cause the College Football Playoff Selection Committee to take note.
If, that is, they haven’t already given the way Malzahn’s group is playing right now.
Six minutes into their battle with SEC West rival Mississippi State and it appeared that Gus Malzahn was ready to quiet all those critics of No. 7 Auburn’s offense the past few weeks. 30 minutes in and the head coach seemed to leave no doubt.
The Tigers scored on their first play from scrimmage and never looked back in an early blitz to take a 42-9 lead over the Bulldogs into halftime during a game where they literally ran MSU’s mascot out of the stadium in the first quarter.
The initial touchdown for the home squad at Jordan-Hare came via a sprint from 30 yards out by JaTarvious Whitlow (55 total yards and three total scores) but that would be far from the only big play out of Auburn’s offense. Wideout Anthony Schwartz notched another TD on the ground off a sweep play and quarterback Bo Nix dove into the end zone for six too as everything seemed to click against a normally salty Bulldogs defense.
Nix even showcased some surprising efficiency as a passer in going 10-of-14 for 189 yards and a touchdown pass (almost all that to Seth Williams, who had the score and 129 yards on seven catches).
Things could have gotten even more out of hand had, bizarrely, State’s quarterback not gotten knocked out the game. That would be Tommy Stevens, who was injured in the first quarter and was replaced for the second game in a row by Garrett Shrader. The latter was actually able to move the ball however and finished with 99 yards and a TD passing while rushing for a team-high 44 as well. His ability to take off on keepers allowed a few more running lanes for tailback Kylin Hill (35 yards), who faced a stacked box nearly every touch when Stevens was in the game.
While there might be a few fans on the Plains a little concerned with the way their normally stout defense was giving up a few long drives in the second quarter, things were otherwise peachy for Malzahn’s side as they look to put away another big win ahead of their showdown at Florida next week.
No. 8 Auburn did most of its damage to No. 17 Texas A&M on two drives. The first was the game’s opening drive, where Anthony Schwartz darted 57 yards for a touchdown. The second came midway through the fourth quarter, when the Tigers went 12 plays and 69 yards , with 11 of those plays and 62 of those yards coming on the ground, the last effectively putting the game way, as JaTavious Whitlow‘s 8-yard rush with 8:27 remaining gave Auburn a 28-10 lead en route to a 28-20 win.
Texas A&M (2-2, 0-1 SEC) rallied after the Whitlow run, moving 69 yards to set up a Seth Small field goal and then 81 yards in eight snaps to pull within 28-20 on a Kellen Mond-to-Ainias Smith strike with 2:12 remaining.
Whitlow recovered A&M’s onside kick after the Smith touchdown, allowing the Tigers to ice the game and emerge from Kyle Field with their fourth win in as many trips. Overall, the road team is 7-1 in this series since Texas A&M joined the SEC in 2012.
Auburn (4-0, 1-0 SEC) won the game because it owned the ground game. The Tigers rushed for 195 yards to the Aggies’ 56, though all but 76 of Auburn’s rushing yards came on two drives.
Bo Nix took care of the football, but threw for just 100 yards on 20 attempts and missed on three deep balls that would have broken the game open for Auburn. He did rush for six yards on a 3rd-and-5 to expire the clock inside the final minute.
Mond threw for 335 yards and two touchdowns, but needed 49 attempts to get there. He found Jhamon Ausbon eight times for 111 yards and Quartney Davis five times for 82 yards and a score, but A&M’s inability to run the ball with its running backs left Mond as the Aggies’ leading rusher at just 26 yards.
At the half in College Station, Auburn holds a 14-3 lead over Texas A&M.
Auburn accepted the ball to open the game and rolled down the field, moving 75 yards in four plays, most of them coming on a 57-yard Anthony Schwartz run. Texas A&M missed a field goal on its opening drive, and Auburn pushed its lead to 14-0 before the end of the first quarter on a 6-yard toss from Joey Gatewood to John Samuel Shenker.
Seth Small‘s second field goal try got the Aggies on the board, a 33-yarder with 12:59 left in the second quarter. Jimbo Fisher used his punting game and a deft deployment of his timeout to manufacture a third Small field goal just before the half, but his 52-yard try was wide left.
As the score indicates, the Aggie offense has struggled to find its footing against Auburn’s ferocious front. Kellen Mond completed 14-of-24 passes but for just 142 yards, while A&M has been credited with 12 yards on 13 carries.
Bo Nix has thrown for just 38 yards, but the Tigers have rushed for 105 yards on 18 carries.
Texas A&M will receive to open the second half.
Bubble wrap might be in order when it comes to Auburn’s receiving corps, just in case.
We had previously noted that speedy AU wide receiver Anthony Schwartz was set to undergo surgery to repair at least one broken bone in his hand, leaving his availability for the opener against Oregon up in the air. Not long after, al.com reported that fellow AU receiver Eli Stove suffered a knee injury during practice earlier in the day.
The good news, especially considering Stove’s recent injury history, is that the latest issue is considered to be minor in nature. “The redshirt junior may be held out of practice some for precautionary reasons,” the website wrote.
Stove suffered a torn ACL in March of last year, limiting him to a pair of appearances this past season. In that limited action, the Florida native caught three passes for 17 yards.
The year before, Stove totaled 265 yards on 29 receptions after posting 23 catches for 224 yards as a true freshman in 2016. Stove has actually done as much or more damage in the running game, accounting for 446 yards and three touchdowns on 41 carries the two years prior to his ACL injury.