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Oct 3, 2020; Starkville, Mississippi, USA; Owen Pappoe (0) gets a sack during the game between Auburn and Mississippi State at Davis Wade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Todd Van Emst/AU Athletics
Oct 3, 2020; Starkville, Mississippi, USA; Owen Pappoe (0) gets a sack during the game between Auburn and Mississippi State at Davis Wade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Todd Van Emst/AU Athletics

Auburn's defense leads the charge in 24-10 victory

STARKVILLE, Mississippi — Auburn’s offense struggled to find the end zone until late on Saturday, but its defense held its own in Starkville. A season-low in points allowed and two interceptions aided the Tigers on their way to a 24-10 road victory over Mississippi State.

“I just couldn’t be more proud of them defensively,” Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said. “We played a big-time game against an offense that’s been playing really well as of late.”

First-quarter yards were difficult to come by for Mississippi State, who amounted to only 35 total yards in the first quarter. It was a season-low of first-quarter yards allowed by the Auburn defense, the previous low was 46 total yards allowed in the first quarter of the Arkansas game.

The Tigers held the Bulldogs to less than four yards per first down, oftentimes setting up Mississippi State in long third-down situations. Mississippi State found themselves with seven third downs of nine-plus yards throughout the game. It converted two of them. In third-down situations, the Bulldogs averaged over seven yards to gain for first downs.

Auburn’s offense struggled throughout the first three quarters, never producing more than a field goal in a quarter. While the Tigers struggled to find the end zone, the defense kept Auburn in the game. Tank Bigsby said that it was the defense’s best game of the season.

“We couldn’t get to clicking early on offense,” Bigsby said. “The defense stepped up and I just feel like that was a big part of this game, them stepping up and changing the way the game was.”

Part of Auburn’s defensive success was due to how much of a presence the Tigers had getting to the quarterback. For a team that utilizes the air-raid offense and passes the ball quickly, Mississippi State had trouble keeping Auburn’s defense out of the backfield. Quarterback Will Rogers had only been sacked eight times before Saturday.

Against Auburn, Rogers was sacked six times, a season-high for Kevin Steele’s defense. And it wasn’t just one player, either. Multiple Tigers found their way on the stat sheet. Owen Pappoe, Derick Hall, Big Kat Bryant, Colby Wooden and Dre Butler all recorded a sack in the victory.

Hall, a Mississippi-native, recorded the first two-sack game of his career.

“The defensive scheme was great,” Hall said. “We put a great game plan together to be able to fake the quarterback in the best way we know how.”

It was Butler’s first career sack, but for the veteran Bryant, the backfield of opposing defenses is where he’s spent his career. The lone senior on the defensive front recorded the sixth and final sack of the evening.

“It was amazing, I was very excited and happy for [Bryant]” Hall said. “Just knowing all the stuff that he’s been through this year. The leadership he has for us as a defensive line and the leadership he has for us as a defense, it was tremendous for him to get that last sack.”

Trailing 3-0 in the second quarter, Mississippi State began a drive at its own 11-yard line, picking up a few first downs and driving into Auburn territory for the first time. On a 3rd and 12 from the Auburn 47-yard line, Rogers was intercepted by junior defensive back Roger McCreary. It was McCreary’s third interception of the season and the fourth of his career.

The defense rattled the freshman quarterback who came into the game with 167 straight pass attempts without an interception. Rogers threw two in the loss, with the other landing in the hands of junior Smoke Monday.

Monday’s interception came with 8:51 left in the third quarter, where he stepped in front of an overthrown pass from Rogers. He ran it back 31 yards to the Mississippi State 38-yard line, eventually leading to a 45-yard field goal from Anders Carlson to extend the Auburn lead 9-3. The interception was his second of the season and fourth of his career. Monday also recorded eight tackles in the win.

“[Rogers] has really been playing well,” Malzahn said. “We were able to put constant pressure on him and make him uncomfortable. Our guys covered. They contested a lot of throws, even the ones that [Mississippi State] caught, and then we hit them.”

Auburn’s defense held Mississippi State to just three points in the first half. The Bulldogs capitalized in the fourth quarter on a short 30-yard field, which was set up by a 65-yard kickoff return by Lideatrick Griffin. The five-play touchdown drive was the only time the Bulldogs found the end zone.

Mississippi State ended the night with 240 total yards of offense, 221 of which came through the air. The Bulldogs had 45 yards lost from the Tigers’ defensive performance. 

“It looked like an Auburn defense,” Malzahn said. “Really proud of those guys and the effort that they had tonight.”

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