Ground assault leads the way for host Tigers

AUBURN, Ala. – Two new coaches showed off their new spread offenses on the Plains on Saturday night. Gene Chizik’s, on this night at least, was the slicker, sexier rendering.
By a lot.
A host of Auburn running backs found interstate-width running lanes most of the night, as the Tigers racked up 390 of their 589 total yards on the ground in a 49-24 win before 85,269 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
It was quite a different game than the 3-2 Auburn win last year in Starkville. But it was equally frustrating for MSU (1-1, 0-1 SEC), especially for a defense that figured itself more stout than what it showed Saturday.
“It’s completely unacceptable for us to give up almost 400 yards rushing. That’s not Mississippi State defense,” said MSU coach Dan Mullen, whose spread he brought from Florida had its moments but sputtered in the second half.
For Auburn (2-0, 1-0), senior Ben Tate and freshman Onterio McCalebb both ran for more than 100 yards for the second consecutive week. Tate had top honors this time, with 157 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries; McCalebb had 114 and a score on 16 totes.
Auburn worked out of the no-huddle most of the game and had MSU’s defense on its heels early. The Tigers had 29 first downs to State’s 14.
“I worked with them boys the whole summer, and I know that’s not how they play,” MSU receiver Leon Berry said of his defensive teammates.
Auburn put the game away with a pair of lengthy third-quarter touchdown drives, covering 81 yards on one and 72 yards the other. The Tigers gained 166 yards in that period alone.
Auburn didn’t need a short field Saturday. Its six touchdown drives were an average of nearly 77 yards in length.
“The offensive line is playing great with the whole blocking scheme,” Tate said. “The coaches are working in unison with each other.”
The Tigers’ other score came on defensive end Antonio Coleman’s 20-yard interception return in the first quarter.
Auburn’s first scoring drive of the second half covered 81 yards in eight plays and was aided by a pair of MSU face mask penalties. Kodi Burns, who had three rushing touchdowns out of the Wildcat formation, hit tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen on a 13-yard scoring pass to make it 35-17 with 3:52 left in the quarter.
The first half was one of wild momentum swings. Auburn raced to a 14-0 lead after one quarter, but MSU reeled off 17 unanswered points in a span of less than eight minutes.
Anthony Dixon’s 1-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-goal got State on the board, and Sean Brauchle’s 29-yard field goal made it 14-10.
Then the special teams came through when Patrick Hanrahan blocked a punt that was scooped up and returned 10 yards for a score by Robert Elliott.
Auburn answered immediately, covering 80 yards on five running plays, including McCalebb’s 48-yard TD jaunt.
And just 16 seconds before the half, Burns scored on a 1-yard run for a 28-17 lead.
“I think that drive at the end of the first half gave them a little bit of momentum going into halftime,” Mullen said.
Dixon, back after serving a one-game suspension for an offseason arrest, led MSU with 92 rushing yards. The Bulldogs had 297 total yards, 167 of that on the ground.

Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal