Auburn Survives a Defensive Slug-Fest with Mississippi State

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AUBURNTIGERSDOTCOM

Sept. 13, 2008

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STARKVILLE, Mississippi (Ticker) - Auburn and Mississippi State combined to score only five points on Saturday in a game long on excitement despite being way short on points.

Wes Byrum kicked a 35-yard field goal and Walter McFadden came up with a big interception to lift No. 9 Auburn to a 3-2 victory over Mississippi State in a Southeastern Conference matchup.

Auburn (3-0, 1-0 SEC West) fumbled twice inside the final five minutes of the game, lost both of them and Mississippi State could not convert either of them into points.

The Bulldogs (1-2, 0-1 West) scored their only points on a safety when Auburn was called for a hold in the end zone midway through the fourth quarter.

Auburn somehow managed 316 yards of offense, but it doesn't take a long look at the stat sheet to see how this one played out.

The teams combined to go 3-for-30 on third down and punted a total of 17 times.

Ben Tate ran 20 times for 91 yards and Brad Lester added 51 yards on nine carries before leaving the field on a stretcher in the third quarter. Lester was later diagnosed with a sprained neck.

Auburn's new spread offense is still going through growing pains, but the defense continues to be a strength. Auburn limited Mississippi State to 116 yards of total offense, the fewest yards it has allowed since limiting Kentucky to 110 yards in 2004.

But offensive coordinator Tony Franklin will have to get the kinks worked out if the Tigers are to maintain their lofty ranking and survive in the rugged SEC.

The five points scored Saturday are the fewest combined points scored between the Tigers and Bulldogs in the 82-game series.

That's a fun little note if you come out with a win, but that's not going to cut it as Auburn goes deeper into its schedule.

Seventh-ranked Louisiana State comes calling next week, with Tennessee on the horizon on September 27.

Auburn committed three turnovers and Byrum missed two field goals, but the Bulldogs' offense was too inept to capitalize.

After Tate's fumble near midfield gave Mississippi State a chance with just over five minutes to go, the Bulldogs embarked on a drive that was the essence of their night.

Quarterback Wesley Carroll stumbled and fell coming out from under center on first down for a 5-yard loss. He then threw three straight incompletions, and Auburn regained possession.

But the Tigers played gracious guest once again and gave the Bulldogs one more chance with another fumble. Tristan Davis mishandled a pitch from Chris Todd and gave Mississippi State the ball with 2:40 to play.

That's where McFadden came to the rescue, intercepting a pass by Carroll at the Auburn 18 with 2:19 to play. The Tigers were able to run out the clock.

Carroll completed 10-of-25 passes for 78 yards for the Bulldogs, who managed a 19-14 road win over Auburn last season.