BY GREGG ELLIS
STARKVILLE – Based on the comments he heard and the newspaper articles he read, Sylvester Croom expected to see an Auburn offense that was struggling immensely upon dissecting game films.
However, that wasn’t the case at all.
Instead of mounting three-and-outs, Croom saw an offense that regularly moved the football and collected first downs.
The problem, though, was a mistake or two here and there that inevitably stalled production.
“They’re executing offensively,” said the fourth-year coach, whose Mississippi State team battles the Tigers at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday in a game televised by Lincoln Financial Sports (WCBI). “They’re moving the football, then one bad thing happens. Again, it’s not a lack of execution or talent.”
Auburn, which fell to 1-1 with its upset loss at home to South Florida on Saturday night, currently ranks 10th in the Southeastern Conference in scoring (23.0) and passing (179.5) and last in both rushing (93.5) and total offense (290.5).
One problem has been the absence of running back Brad Lester, who is out indefinitely due to academic issues.
Another problem has been inconsistent play by quarterback Brandon Cox.
In two games, Cox has completed 33 of his 65 passes for 394 yards, with two touchdowns and four interceptions.
“We know they are going to try to run the football first, then mix in the passing game,” Croom said.
With Lester out, Auburn has relied on Ben Tate and Mario Fannin to run the football, and they are combining for 100 yards an outing.
Through two games, State is giving up just 121. In addition, the Bulldogs haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher for eight consecutive games.
Defense stepping up
The Tigers’ run defense has been rather stout, too, yielding just 81 yards on the ground.
And it’s no secret that Auburn’s success on defense hinges on the play of defensive end Quentin Groves.
However, left tackle Michael Brown says the total focus isn’t containing Groves.
“You can never focus on one person,” Brown said. “You have to focus on the whole defense. We’ll focus some on him, but you can’t put all your focus on him.”
Fullback Jeremy Jones agreed.
“He’s good, and he’s considered one of the best in the SEC, but guys like Titus Brown and Gabe O’Neal, they hold their own too,” Jones said. “The key for us is focusing on what we do more than worrying about what Auburn does.”