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.