By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
It was another big day for Mississippi State’s offense, which piled up 531 yards. Through two games, the Bulldogs have 1,176 yards of total offense for an average of 588 yards per game, fifth in the nation.
Saturday’s outburst was sparked by the running game, which accounted for 333 yards. Both tailback Vick Ballard and quarterback Chris Relf rushed for more than 100 yards. MSU converted 11 of 20 third downs, and despite losing left tackle James Carmon and center Quentin Saulsberry, still rallied and came within inches of catching Auburn at game’s end.
For the second consecutive week, tackling was an issue, especially for MSU’s linebackers. Coach Dan Mullen said the main problems were poor positioning, which resulted from poor coaching, and simply missing tackles that were there to be made.
State also got very little pressure on first-year Auburn quarterback Barrett Trotter, who was sacked just once. He was efficient: 16 of 23 for 146 yards and two touchdowns.
Also, MSU struggled with kick coverage: Auburn averaged 25.6 yards on kickoff returns, while State averaged 16.2 yards.
Keys to victory
Evaluating the keys to victory in Saturday’s GameDay section:
1. Be ready for the attack. Auburn’s running game, which struggled the week before against Utah State, found its groove and accounted for 235 yards. The Tigers stayed away from MSU’s interior defensive line, considered one of the SEC’s best, but found plenty of room to run outside the tackles. Tailback Michael Dyer ran for 150 yards.
2. Get physical. MSU’s offensive line handled Auburn’s defensive front well, even after Carmon and Saulsberry were knocked out. Mullen had no issues with the play of replacements Blaine Clausell and Dillon Day, both redshirt freshmen.
While MSU’s defensive backs delivered some big hits, and linebacker Cam Lawrence made 14 tackles, the Bulldogs had trouble with Auburn’s offensive line.
3. Hit the big play. Mullen bemoaned the lack of big plays by his offense. After recording five scoring plays of 35 yards are longer versus Memphis, State had just one Saturday, on a 40-yard LaDarius Perkins run. That was MSU’s longest play of the game.
Chris Relf: His toughness was on full display, as he carried 27 times for 106 yards and made several big third-down conversions, both on the ground and through the air. He was 20 of 33 for 195 yards and a TD passing.
As much as this one hurts, MSU (1-1, 0-1 SEC), now ranked 25th in the country, must quickly prepare for No. 3 LSU (2-0, 0-0) on Thursday (7 p.m., ESPN). It’s the Bulldogs’ 2011 home opener.