Bulldogs upset Auburn
Sylvester Croom is getting tired of hearing the word “upset” when his team wins a big Southeastern Conference game.
That word was used Saturday when reporters asked the SEC’s first black coach about his team’s 19-14 win at Auburn.
“Not to us it wasn’t,” Croom said when asked if the win was an upset. “We felt like it was a dead-even game coming in. I am sure some people would call it an upset, but we don’t care, we know who we are.”
Upset or not, it was another bit win for Croom in his home state. Croom is a former Alabama player and assistant coach and his Bulldogs defeated the Crimson Tide 24-16 last year in Tuscaloosa.
Croom, in his fourth year at Mississippi State with a 11-26 record, said he also doesn’t consider the win a personal victory.
“I told them (the players) that it wasn’t for me and that I had been here before. I have beaten Auburn lots of times,” Croom said, referring to his years at Alabama.
Christian Ducre scored the go-ahead touchdown with 5:15 to play and Mississippi State stopped Auburn inside the 10 in the final seconds.
Mississippi State (2-1, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) had lost six straight against Auburn.
It was the second consecutive upset at home for the Tigers (1-2, 0-1), who lost to South Florida 26-23 in overtime last week.
But Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville said the Tigers would not panic after the two losses.
“It’s not going to be overnight to get it all going in the right direction, but this hurts, especially a conference game at home. Last week hurts, but this one hurts a lot more,” Tuberville said.
It was a game of changing momentum. Mississippi State took an early 13-0 lead and Auburn came back to take a 14-13 halftime lead thanks to the play of freshman quarterback Kodi Burns, who saw action for the first time in his career when embattled starter Brandon Cox was benched after throwing two early interceptions.
Tuberville said Burns worked a lot this week in practice in case he was needed in the game.
“We were hoping we would come out and make some plays,” Tuberville said. “We just needed a change of pace.”
Running back Mario Fannin said he was impressed with Burns’ play.
“Kodi came in and did a great job. I commend him. He grew up a lot tonight,” Fannin said.
Burns gave the Tigers a new look by running an option offense, but the Bulldogs adjusted at halftime and stopped the Tigers in the second half. After the teams swapped punts for much of the half, the Bulldogs, who lost starting quarterback Michael Henig to injury in the first quarter, drove the ball 44 yards in 10 plays, a drive that featured the running of Ducre and Anthony Dixon.
Dixon finished the game with 103 yards on 29 carries and Ducre had 63 yards on 10 carries.
After the Bulldogs went ahead, Cox came back into the game and drove the Tigers 67 yards to the Mississippi State 9, with the biggest gains coming on a 23-yard pass from Cox to Rod Smith and a 17-yard run by Ben Tate.
But on fourth down with 53 seconds to play, Cox’s pass fell short of Smith in the end zone.
“Our defense just made plays and I couldn’t be more proud of them,” Croom said of his team’s play. “We played physical football for 60 minutes. We felt like if we could do that we would have a chance to win.”
Mississippi State started fast against the Tigers, who shut out the Bulldogs in the last two meetings. But the Bulldogs wasted no time getting on the scoreboard, driving 58 yards in 12 plays for a 32-yard field goal by Adam Carlson.
Henig broke his throwing hand on the drive and missed the rest of the game.
Mississippi State quickly extended the lead, as Derek Pegues intercepted Cox’s first pass and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown, giving the Bulldogs an early 10-0 lead and leaving the Auburn crowd stunned. It was Pegues’ third career interception return for a touchdown, a Mississippi State record.
The biggest cheers from the crowd came on the first series after Cox’s second interception when Burns trotted on the field and at halftime when American Idol winner Taylor Hicks performed. Hicks is a former Auburn student.
With Burns in the game, the Tigers immediately switched to an option-style offense with Burns mostly running and or handing off from the shotgun.
Mississippi State added a 30-yard field goal by Carlson early in the second quarter.
Burns got the Auburn offense moving late in the second half, leading the Tigers on a 5-play, 54-yard drive that ended with a 28-yard touchdown run by Ben Tate at 4:18 in the half.
The Bulldogs fumbled the following kickoff and Auburn’s Zac Etheridge recovered, giving Auburn the ball on the 30. Burns scored on a 1-yard quarterback sneak to give the Tigers a 14-13 halftime lead.