Sept. 15, 2013
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn talks with MSU head coach Dan Mullen after Saturday’s game (Todd Van Emst photo)
AUBURN, Ala. — Dee Ford said he had to knock the rust off to get back on his game, and the way he figured to do that was chase Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott around Jordan-Hare Stadium.
That's what Auburn's pass-rush defensive end did Saturday night in his season debut after missing the first two games of the season.
Ford was Auburn's most celebrated defensive player in the preseason, but a knee injury kept him out of wins over Washington State and Arkansas State. He was around for Saturday's 24-20 win over Mississippi State, guessing he was in for about 30 plays.
Ford and Justin Garrett, who had missed the first two games with a foot injury, made their season debuts on the same night. But cornerback Chris Davis, the team's leading tackler in the first two games, didn't play because of an undisclosed injury.
Ford said he was biding his time before playing.
"It was frustrating, but I just had to do what was in my best interest and what was best for the team," he said. "I couldn't get down. The team still needed me to be a vocal leader. I couldn't just shut down and be sad. I definitely looked at what was in front of me, and I responded."
Ford had six tackles — two behind leaders Ryan White and Jake Holland — and was officially credited with two quarterback hurries. Garrett had two tackles.
"Their play-making ability really helps," said coach Gus Malzahn.
"Honestly," Ford said, "I was going to come back last week. I was like, if I'm questionable for Arkansas State, I'm surely going to be ready tonight."
"The training staff did a great job. I put in the work and it got me back for Mississippi State."
-- Charles Goldberg
Marcus Davis comes up big on final drive
True freshman slot receiver Marcus Davis, a quarterback at American Heritage High School in Delray Beach, Fla., a year ago, played a key role on Auburn’s 88-yard drive to the winning touchdown.
Davis caught four passes for 38 yards from quarterback Nick Marshall, who threw the 11-yard game-winner to C.J. Uzomah with 10 seconds left.
Receivers coach Dameyune Craig said Davis got some help from a friend in getting to Auburn.
Craig had gone to American Heritage last January to see running back Greg Bryant, who eventually signed with Notre Dame. Bryant told Craig he should look at Davis. Craig did just that and liked what he saw.
“When he committed, he shook Coach Malzahn’s hand and said ‘I appreciate you taking a chance on me. I’ll be the hardest worker on your team,’” Craig said. “He’s taken a businesslike approach. He has a lot of maturity. The kid is well-rounded, and he loves football. He’s bought into the system, found his niche and continued to get better every day.”
Malzahn readily agreed.
“Marcus is freshman, but he’s not playing like a freshman," Malzahn said. "He’s really stepped up, and you’ll see him on the field more."
Davis finished with a game-high six catches for 43 yards. Auburn's yardage leader was Quan Bray, who had 80 yards, including a 76-yard touchdown catch, on three receptions.
Quan Bray makes the catch
Receiver Quan Bray was happy enough about his 76-yard touchdown catch early in the game. But he said another one got away. Luckily, Nick Marshall just kept passing.
"The first one I dropped, but Nick came out and told me to get my head right," Bray said. "We went back out there and he didn’t give up on me. He looked down field, found me open and I made a play."
Move on defensive line pays off for Auburn
After rushing for 115 yards on 15 carries in the first three quarters, Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott managed just 18 yards on nine carries in the fourth quarter.
Part of the reason was shuffling on the defensive line. Defensive line coach Rodney Garner moved true freshman defensive end Elijah Daniel inside with fellow true freshman Montravius Adams to apply more pressure.
“We were just trying to get a little more athletic, get a little more speed,” Garner said. “That quarterback, when we got anywhere near him, he could take off and beat you with his feet. Obviously, we have to do a much better job of containing the quarterback.”
Tigers get rid of penalties against Mississippi State
After Auburn was penalized nine times for 91 yards in last Saturday’s 38-9 victory over Arkansas State, Malzahn said reducing penalties would be an urgent priority.
Auburn players were apparently paying attention. The Tigers were penalized one time for five yards in Saturday’s game.
SEC losing streak goes quietly
Auburn snapped a 10-game SEC losing streak, but, like a lot of things from last year, Gus Malzahn said he didn't make a big deal out of it.
"We did not talk about that one time. We just talked about this year," he said. "When you win your first SEC game, it gives you great momentum, and I’m really proud of our guys, and the way they got that done tonight."
-- Charles Goldberg
Decision to punt late in fourth quarter was hard one for Malzahn
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn acknowledged he wrestled with the decision.
Auburn had marched from its 3 to the Mississippi State 45 as the clock sped toward the two-minute mark in the fourth quarter. It was fourth-and-3. The Bulldogs led 20-17. Malzahn called for a punt, and the Jordan-Hare Stadium crowd booed.
Steven Clark’s punt barely crossed into the end zone and the Bulldogs took over at their own 20 with 2:26 left. They made one first down, gambling on fourth-and-1 at their own 29. But on third-and-4 at the 38, Prescott gained just two yards. Mississippi State punted and Auburn started the winning touchdown drive from its own 12.
“It was really tough, but I felt like we could pin them down there,” Malzahn said. “Our defense was playing pretty well. I was disappointed we didn’t get the first down on third down. We had the look we wanted. We just didn’t execute it. We have to get better.”
White, Holland Auburn’s top tacklers
Senior cornerback Ryan White, playing in place of injured senior Chris Davis, and senior linebacker Jake Holland led Auburn with eight tackles apiece against Mississippi State. White also broke up two passes.
Junior safety Jermaine Whitehead had seven tackles. Cornerback Jonathon Mincy, star Robenson Therezie and defensive end Dee Ford had six tackles apiece.
Senior punter Steven Clark had his best game of the season, averaging 48 yards on four punts and stopping two inside the 20.
Kicker Cody Parkey had a big day, too, going 3-for-3 on field goals with a long of 47 yards and sending all six of his kickoffs through the end zone for touchbacks.
Two-point conversion magic
Ryan White and two-point conversions are becoming synonymous.
White ran in a two-pointer after Auburn’s first touchdown of the season against Washington State. Saturday, he threw a jump pass to Brandon Fusle for a two-point conversion after Auburn’s first touchdown.
White, a cornerback who holds for Auburn kicks, was a high school quarterback.
Frazier plays wildcat quarterback again
Junior Kiehl Frazier, Auburn’s starting quarterback for six games last season, got snaps as the wildcat quarterback Saturday.
Frazier, who moved to safety after Marshall was named the starting quarterback, ran one time for four yards.
* Marshall, who passed for 339 yards, became the first Auburn quarterback to pass for 300 yards since Cam Newton threw for 335 against South Carolina in the 2010 SEC Championship Game.
* Marshall completed passers to nine receivers, including himself. Marshall caught a batted pass and gained 37 yards, setting up an Auburn field goal.
* Second quarters have not been good for Auburn’s offense. After gaining 199 yards in the first quarter Saturday, the Tigers managed just 18 yards in the second quarter.
* Linebacker Kris Frost, who had to sit out the first half after being called for targeting against Washington State, was in on one tackle in the second half.
* Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen: “We had the opportunity to finish on offense and did not do it. We had the opportunity to finish on defense and did not do it. That’s coaching.”