By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. -Dominating defense, a vertical passing game and a trio of Kerryon Johnson touchdowns highlighted No. 13 Auburn's 49-10 win Saturday over No. 24 Mississippi State.
"I'm just very proud of our team," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. "Our first SEC home game against a good Mississippi State club. Our defense played great again. They answered the bell time and time again.
"Offensively, I thought we played well. We hit some shots. The last two games, when we hit shots, we score points. I thought that was a big factor. Our quarterback looked very efficient again."
Auburn gained 205 yards on four of Jarrett Stidham's passes, including a 57-yarder to Eli Stove that Stidham launched from deep in Auburn's end zone to begin a 99-yard drive.
"I think we're gelling at the right time," Stidham said. "The first two or three games, it wasn't all there. Especially these past two weeks, we've put together a full game in all three phases."
While Stidham averaged 20 yards per completion (13-for-16 for 264 yards), Auburn limited MSU's Nick Fitzgerald to 157 passing yards, while forcing 20 incompletions.
Auburn intercepted Fitzgerald twice, with Javaris Davis' 37-yard interception return early in the fourth quarter giving the Tigers a 42-10 lead. Tray Matthews made Auburn's other interception.
"It all starts up front," Davis said. "We've got a great defensive line to pressure. I saw green grass and just tried to score."
Through five games, Auburn has allowed 55 points. The Tigers are the only FBS team to allow 14 or fewer points in each game this season.
Johnson gained 116 yards on 23 carries, scoring three touchdowns, including two in the second half as Auburn pulled away.
"That definitely puts a smile on my face," said Johnson, who has eight rushing TDs in Auburn's first back-to-back 30-point SEC wins in 30 years after missing two games with injury. "I missed the Clemson game which hurt a lot. I'm just trying to get back out here and continue to get back on track."
Malik Willis scored his first Auburn touchdown, a 67-yarder with 3:04 remaining for the final score.
On the game's third play, Johnson ran 58 yards to MSU's 5. Four plays later, Johnson scored his seventh touchdown of the season on fourth-and-goal from 1 after Malzahn called a timeout and decided against attempting a field goal.
"When we got off to a good start, our crowd got into it," Malzahn said. "Our crowd was unbelievable. I think they had seven false starts. I've said this before, but I think it's the best home-field advantage there is in college football because of our fans. It was extremely loud. They were a big part of our success tonight. But I'm proud of our team. It's a good step in the right direction.
State kicked a 40-yard field goal after recovering a Stidham fumble.
Auburn responded with razzle dazzle; a 49-yard flea flicker from Stidham to Darius Slayton. After Johnson's 13-yard run, Stidham hit Ryan Davis, who reached for the pylon for a 7-yard TD to put Auburn ahead 14-3 with 4:55 left in the first quarter.
"I was just trying to get in the end zone by any means," said Davis, who led Auburn with six receptions. "I knew I was going to beat him to the pylon. Kyle Davis did a great job on the perimeter blocking for me. It was a race to the pylon and I was able to beat him there."
After Auburn's defense forced its second three-and-out, Stidham found a wide open Will Hastings for a 47-yard, one-play drive that made it 21-3 with 13:38 remaining in the second quarter.
"That's what Coach Malzahn says all the time," Hastings said. "There's a lot more pressure when you're wide open. Those are the hardest catches to make. You've just got to make sure that you watch the ball all the way in, and get in the end zone."
Auburn maintained the momentum when Daniel Thomas stopped State's punter 1 yard short of a first down on a fake punt, but a 52-yard field goal attempt hit the upright. The Bulldogs scored on a 5-yard touchdown pulled MSU within 21-10 with 59 seconds left in the half, but Auburn outscored State 28-0 in the second half.
The Tigers remain at Jordan-Hare next Saturday for an 11 a.m. kick against Ole Miss.
"We're going to get back to work tomorrow and get better," Stidham said.
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer