By David Brandt/The Assocated Press
STARKVILLE — Cameron Newton put on another impressive show Thursday night, this time against a Southeastern Conference defense in No. 21 Auburn’s 17-14 victory over Mississippi State.
Newton, a 6-foot-6, 250-pound junior, threw for two touchdowns and accounted for 206 yards of total offense, mixing passes with his ability to run over and around the Mississippi State defense.
“You sign up to play college football to play in games like this,” Newton said.
He compeleted 11 of 19 passes for 136 yards, the two touchdowns and one interception and also ran for 70 yards on 18 carries in the SEC opener for both teams.
Newton outgained Mississippi State 146-125 all by himself in the first half. But after leading 17-7 at halftime, the Tigers had to lean on their defense to pull out the hard-fought victory.
“We started off on fire,” Newton said. “But we put our defense in some binds, I’m not going to lie. It’s just a sign of a good team — our defense stepped up and did what they had to do.”
Mississippi State’s last drive ended at the Auburn 40 when Chris Relf’s fourth-down pass fell incomplete with 22 seconds remaining.
Both teams had impressive high-scoring openers last week, with Auburn beating Arkansas State 52-26, while Mississippi State battered Memphis 49-7.
Neither team was as successful against an SEC defense, but both had their moments.
Auburn started quickly, taking a 7-0 lead on Newton’s 39-yard touchdown pass to Emory Blake early in the first quarter.
Mississippi State tied it 7 after offensive lineman Gabe Jackson fell on quarterback Chris Relf’s fumble in the end zone late in the first quarter.
Auburn added from Newton’s 12-yard touchdown pass to Darvin Adams and a 34-yard field goal from Wes Byrum to take a 17-7 lead at halftime.
In the second half, Mississippi State pulled to 17-14 on Vick Ballard’s 1-yard run midway through the third quarter after grinding through a 12-play, 63-yard drive.
But after that, the Tigers’ defense didn’t allow much of anything.
Auburn defensive end Nick Fairley always seemed to be in the middle of important plays, finishing with 2.5 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, one interception and three quarterback hurries.
Mississippi State botched several opportunities to capitalize on big plays and a homefield advantage that featured a packed stadium of 54,806 fans who were screaming and clanging cowbells.
The Bulldogs recovered an onside kick after narrowing Auburn’s lead to 17-14, but the offense had three empty plays before punting. Cornerback Corey Broomfield dropped an interception on what would have been a sure touchdown.
And on the final drive, Mississippi State receiver Leon Berry dropped a pass that would have put the Bulldogs in field goal range. For Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen, there were several cringe-worthy moments.
“Every time we’d hit a high note, we wouldn’t make the play,” Mullen said. “We would thud.”
Relf completed 12 of 25 passes for 110 yards.
Auburn has won 17 of its past 18 SEC openers. The Tigers outgained the Bulldogs 348-246.
Mississippi State hasn’t won its first two games in a season since 2000 and hasn’t won a conference opener since 1999.
Read more in Friday’s NEMS Daily Journal newspaper.
Click view slideshow link above for photos.