Sept. 10, 2005
The Tigers (1-1, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) rebounded from a season-opening loss to Georgia Tech with their first league shutout since a 9-0 win over Alabama in 2000.
The Bulldogs (1-1, 0-1) have now lost 16 consecutive games against SEC West opponents and even tailback Jerious Norwood couldn't get anything going.
Auburn returned to the formula that resulted in a 13-0 season in 2004: a stingy defense and running the ball to set up the pass instead of the other way around like last week.
The Tigers held Norwood to 39 yards on 10 carries and constantly harried quarterback Omarr Conner.
Cox was nearly perfect in the first half, going 8-of-10 for 132 yards with a 33-yard touchdown to tight end Cole Bennett and a 5-yarder to Devin Aromashodu. He also completed long passes to tailbacks Tre Smith and Kenny Irons, who were largely nonfactors in the opener.
The sophomore's starting debut had turned nightmarish, with four second-half interceptions and a fumble. This time Cox mostly handed off in the second half, finishing 12 of 18 as Auburn managed just 10 yards in the third quarter.
He completed passes of 23 and 38 yards in the fourth quarter. Reserve Brad Lester rushed for a 6-yard TD with 2:03 left to cap the scoring.
The Tigers' running game didn't look all that formidable, managing 118 yards on 41 carries, but it helped control the clock and set Cox up for some big plays.
Conner, meanwhile, was 10 of 19 for 116 yards with an interception after throwing for four touchdowns against Murray State.
Two Bulldog mistakes helped the Tigers take a 21-0 lead midway through the third quarter. Herring recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown after Jonathan Lowe had blundered in calling for a fair catch before fielding Kody Bliss's 60-yard punt at the Mississippi State 6-yard line.
Two plays later, Tee Milons bobbled a screen pass from Omarr Conner. When he got control and tried to run with it, the ball popped loose and bounced into the end zone.
Mississippi State drove into Auburn territory four times, making it as far as the 14 in the first quarter before a sack and penalties pushed the Bulldogs back.
Keith Andrews' 48-yard field goal attempt bounced off the goal post.
Quoting Auburn Head Coach Tommy Tuberville
THE MISSISSIPPI STATE GAME
"It was a good start. It was our first conference game. I thought we played well. We were consistent. It is the best defense that I have seen out of us in a while. Our defense adjusted well, and it was a monumental effort. Our offense didn't play as well. We lost our focus. We have a lot of young guys, and we made some mistakes. It was a defensive victory for us today. Our special teams were average. There is a lot of room for improvement. We need to go back and work hard and keep our focus. Our effort was great today. If we keep working hard like this, we will continue to get better. This was a better game than last week with execution and mental errors.
(On Auburn's pass rush): "We got pressure on him (Omarr Conner). Last week and last year when they played well, nobody got in his face. We have a lot of speed on defense and quickness at defensive end. We were just trying to contain him, and it worked. It was a superb game plan by our coaches. We got better defensively. I give our defense an "A" today with the way they played.
"Our offensive guys know that that ball game should have been over early in the third quarter and we just couldn't put them away."
(On playing a lot of people on defense): "We are going to continue to do that. We have a lot of depth. We played a lot of offensive linemen and a lot of defensive linemen. We played a lot of running backs. I am proud of Brad Lester in his first efforts as an Auburn Tiger. We need to get the diapers off of these guys and put their noses in the grindstone and get better. There are some bright spots. The next few weeks we have to get better, and we got better this week.
"Brandon (Cox) had an okay game. It wasn't a real good mental game for us on offense. I was impressed with Mississippi State's defense. They weren't going to let us run the ball. They are much better than they were last year. Sylvester (Croom) is doing a fine job.
"It is always a concern. You have to be able to run it to win. We are a running game by committee in the backfield. You aren't going to be as good as you were last year this early because of experience in your running backs and your quarterback.
(Was the Miss. State game better than the Georgia Tech game?): "I thought we played better offensively most of the time last week. The concentration was better. I thought we held our blocks better this week than last week. They forced us to throw it. We have to be able to run the clock and keep our defense off the field. The first part of the game, we mixed it up well and executed. The second half for the first three or four time outs, I don't think we made a first down. Give a lot of credit to Mississippi State, they hung in there and played hard.
"It is very important. Early in the season if you look at young players in the skill positions, you struggle mentally. We were better today in most areas, but we aren't a team yet that can say we have a team that can get us to Atlanta and that is our goal. We were very physical and played hard.
"This opportunity with two non-conference games will give us a chance to go out and try new things on offense and defense before our next conference game."
(On winning the coin toss and electing to receive): "I don't like playing offense first unless we are forced to. We spent 30 minutes talking about that as a staff. We went all the way back to last spring with the way our defense played on the first series. We would come out flat and on our heels. I think we had 39 plays on offense and their defense was out their 39 plays and ours was out there 22."
QUOTING MISSISSIPPI STATE PLAYERS
THE AUBURN GAME
Omarr Conner, QB
"It wasn't problems with our execution, it was just mistakes we made. I did not put the ball in the right place. I tried to keep poise and stay motivated despite their defense, but we beat ourselves. Even though we made mistakes, we kept our head up.
(On the loss of Jerious Norwood):"Our running game still cooked. Jerious is our leader and it is hard to make up for his loss. One play can make a difference. He's our leader."
Jerious Norwood, RB
(On his injured shoulder): "On the second or third play of the game, I fell on it and I played through it. I wanted to keep playing but after a while the pain was just too great. I have never had an injury like this before, but injuries are part of the game. I just have to get stronger for next week. My backups (Derek Ambrose and Demarcus Johnson) run very hard. They definitely stepped it up for me today, but in the end we beat ourselves."
Derek Ambrose, RB
(On Jerious Norwood's injury): "We feel as though Jerious is our leader. Our objective is to go out with or without him and perform. We have to keep playing hard.
"Hopefully, I made a dent. It is just a matter of Coach Croom feeling confident in me. We have to keep moving forward even without Jerious."
Quinton Culberson, LB
(On defensive play): "I felt we lined up toe-to-toe with a good football team. We had a few busted assignments, but should have come away with a win today."
(On the feeling of losing the game this year as opposed to last year): "Losing this year feels a little better. We have come together as a team, but we still have a long way to go."
Kevin Dockery, DB
"We just tried to do what we emphasize in practice and tried to hit them hard. We got off to a slow start, but we got better as the game went on."
Auburn Game Notes
Auburn vs. Mississippi State
September 10, 2005