Sept. 15, 2013
Cassanova McKinzy, left, and Jermaine Whitehead put the brakes on Mississippi State (Anthony Hall photo)
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. — Before the Nick Marshall heroics, before the game-winning touchdown with 10 seconds left, there was a defense rising to the occasion Saturday night.
Auburn defeated Mississippi State 24-20 in Jordan-Hare Stadium thanks to a defense that shut out the Bulldogs over their last five offensive series, and a shift in priorities to stop quarterback Dak Prescott.
Prescott rushed for 133 yards, but when Auburn had to stop him to have a chance, it did.
The Tigers held Prescott to 2, 0, 1, 3, 1 and 2 yards on his last six carries. That set the stage for Marshall's game-winner with just seconds to spare.
State piled up 415 yards, but mustered only 37 yards over its last 20 plays after the Tigers focused on stopping Prescott. Coach Gus Malzahn said the Tigers changed their scheme.
"The coaches made some adjustments, our guys responded, they stopped the quarterback run I believe in the fourth quarter pretty well," Malzahn said. "They’re a good offense, they’ve got some play-makers."
Adjustments, sure, but defensive end Dee Ford said better play helped, too.
"We weren't doing what we were supposed to be doing in the first place," Ford said. "The defensive ends really have to spill that quarterback draw. We fixed that. We settled down and played our game and made some big stops. "
The changes, said linebacker Jake Holland, weren't major.
"Honestly, we didn't make a whole lot of adjustments. What we were able to do were do some stunts to stop the quarterback running. That's what they were really hurting us with," Holland said.
Prescott's runs helped State to a 20-14 lead early in the third quarter and a 20-17 lead for most of the fourth. State used a balanced offense to control the clock. The Bulldogs had the ball nine minutes longer than Auburn.
Yet, the Tigers ran 70 plays to State's 68.
The Tigers didn't allow any points in the fourth quarter for the third straight game. Still, there is work to do. Auburn is ranked 92nd nationally in total defense, though 33rd in touchdowns allowed at six.
But when it mattered, the Tigers were there.
Auburn's 70th play, the one in which Marshall threw the 11-yard game-winner to C.J. Uzomah, may go a long way.
"This win was a great confidence boost for us going into LSU," Ford said. "I think some people weren’t buying into Auburn, but I think after tonight, people are taking notice. We’re ready to prove ourselves on the road."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine