Sept. 20, 2013
Auburn defenders apply the pressure on Mississippi State's Dak Prescott (Todd Van Emst photo)
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. — Gus Malzahn showed he believed in his defense last week, not only with words, but with his action.
Down by three with six minutes remaining, Malzahn, an offensive guy at heart, ordered a punt on a fourth-and-a-makeable-3 at the Mississippi State 45, hoping his defense would hold for a last chance at victory.
The defense did.
Auburn got the ball back and scored with 10 seconds left to beat the Bulldogs 24-20. The Tigers' defense will now take his trust to LSU for Saturday night's 6:45 game on ESPN.
Malzahn has gone for it before. Remember when he talked his way into a pass on a fourth-and-3 early the fourth quarter against Alabama in 2010? He won the go-for-it argument, Auburn converted the fourth-down play and the Tigers scored five plays later on a Cam Newton-to-Philip Lutzenkirchen pass, one of the final stops to the BCS national championship.
Malzahn opted for a different strategy last week.
"There was some thought that went into that," he said. "Each game unfolds differently, and I really felt like the defense was playing well. That was one factor. Mississippi State had stopped the run pretty well the second half, so that was another factor.
"My plan was, when we decided to punt, we'd put pin them down there and flip the ball and get the ball back. I think they got one first down, but our defense did a great job. They got us the ball back with almost two minutes and we had two timeouts."
But Auburn didn't flip the field. State made a first down, ran off four minutes of the clock and punted Auburn all the way back to its own 12 with 1:56 remaining. But Malzahn's faith was rewarded when the Tigers ran 12 plays, covered 88 yards — and did it all in just one minute, 46 seconds — to win.
That was after the defense turned up the heat in its best quarter of the game. And the season. The Tigers are one of six teams in the country that hasn't been scored on in the fourth quarter this year.
Auburn's defense has faced 19 second-half series this season. It has allowed only three field goals and a touchdown. That trend continued against Mississippi State. The Bulldogs gained 132 yards in the first quarter, 110 in the second quarter, 104 in the third quarter, and 69 yards in the fourth.
That made Malzahn's decision easier.
"The coaches made some adjustments, our guys responded, they stopped the quarterback run I believe in the fourth quarter pretty well," Malzahn said.
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: