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Oct 9, 2021; Auburn, AL, USA; Tank Bigsby (4) runs in for a touchdown during the game between Auburn and Mississippi State at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Todd Van Emst/AU Athletics
Oct 9, 2021; Auburn, AL, USA; Tank Bigsby (4) runs in for a touchdown during the game between Auburn and Mississippi State at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Todd Van Emst/AU Athletics

Auburn's suffers defeat in second-half meltdown to Mississippi State

It was the largest collapse and blown lead in school history.

After taking a commanding 28-3 lead and largely dominating in every aspect of the game, Auburn fell apart in the final 32 minutes of the game. Mississippi State, once trailing by 25, scored 40 unanswered points on its way to defeating Auburn 43-34 on Saturday.

Auburn was outscored 40-6 in the final 32 minutes of play.

“Everybody’s disappointed, being at home and losing, in the locker room, no one’s happy in the locker room,” said Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin. “We’re all disappointed.”

The offensive struggles, which looked to be a thing of the past based on the first half of play, returned in the second half. Along with it came Auburn’s worst defensive performance of the season, in which it allowed 332 yards of total offense and five touchdowns in the final 30 minutes.

Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers had more touchdown passes than incompletions in the second half on his way to leading the Bulldogs to their largest comeback in program history.

After scoring 14 points in both the first and second quarters, Auburn’s offense went silent, Mississippi State scored its first touchdown with just under two minutes to go in the first half, but the Tigers had an 18-point lead at the midway point.

Harsin said an 18-point lead is “not enough.”

Mississippi State’s offense showed new life out of the locker rooms, scoring a touchdown on its first five drives in the second half. Three out of the five drives lasted less than three minutes.

But as time progressed and Mississippi State continued to climb back into the game, the energy inside Jordan-Hare Stadium continued to fall.

“You know, I’m not quite sure what happened there,” Nix said. “Just felt like the entire stadium — the life — just kind of mellowed out and the life of the stadium kind of relaxed there for a minute and it was hard to get some momentum back.”

One of the key momentum shifts came midway through the fourth when Auburn lost its most experienced player on defense. With Auburn trailing by eight, on a second-and-16 play at the Auburn 22-yard line, senior EDGE rusher T.D. Moultry made a hit on Rogers to set up a third-and-long for the Bulldogs.

The play went to review and to the disliking of Auburn fans, Moultry was called for targeting. It gave Mississippi State a fresh set of downs to work with, which it eventually capitalized on with Rogers’ sixth touchdown pass of the day. The score put the Bulldogs up 43-28 with 5:31 to go.

“What I saw on the replay was him going up because the quarterback's in a passing position to try to block the pass,” Harsin said of the targeting call. “The quarterback freezes. He's coming down, and then he sacks the quarterback in that situation right there.”

“So...targeting, you've got to define who's defenseless, the crown of the helmet -- there's all these other things that come into play. And I didn't see that on that play, but they called it from the booth because it wasn't called on the field.”

Auburn’s defense not only lost one of its core defensive linemen for the rest of the game, but Moultry will not play in the first half of the South Carolina game because the penalty occurred in the second half.

It was a defensive breakdown, unlike anything that Auburn has seen this season. Meanwhile, the second-half offensive woes are nothing new.

Since the Ole Miss game, Auburn has scored a total of nine points in the second half of its last three games. That’s nine points in 90 minutes of football.

“We've got to continue to keep attacking in the second half as aggressively -- just playing and executing -- as we do in the first half,” Harsin said. “It doesn't seem like we do that in the second half.”

Although Mississippi State is known for its air-raid offense, it had more rushing attempts in the second half than Auburn did. The Bulldogs ran the ball 14 times in the second half, averaging 4.4 yards per carry. Meanwhile Auburn had a scarce eight rushing attempts, averaging a negative 1.8 yards per carry.

“I think there were things that we did; there were some assignment errors in there,” Harsin said of the run game. “Things that [the Bulldogs] were doing. So it just wasn't consistent enough at the end of the day, and that's really what it comes down to. “

The Tigers never had a first-down rushing attempt in the second half.

As Auburn’s offense continued to send the punting unit out on the field, Mississippi State continued to find the end zone. Harsin made the call for a fake punt to attempt to regain momentum, but it was also stopped.

Rogers continued to rip the defense apart and broke the Mississippi State single-game passing touchdown record with six scores. By the time the clock hit zero, fans had filed out of the stadium and Auburn was on the wrong side of one of the most historic comebacks in college football history.

“Just being from Mississippi, personal for me — that one hurt,” said EDGE rusher Derick Hall. “Shed a few tears walking in obviously.”

It was the most points that Mississippi State had scored against Auburn since 1952 when the Bulldogs beat Auburn 49-34.

The Tigers will now turn their heads to South Carolina, going on the road for the second consecutive season against the Gamecocks. That game will kick off at 6 p.m. CST from Williams-Brice Stadium on Nov. 20.

“Obviously we didn’t get the job done but obviously we still have games left, and we want to finish off on the right foot,” Hall said. “We’ll have to just keep moving forward and keep assessing this game in the right way.”

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