Auburn is apparently going to make this last-minute escape deal a signature of its game. In this case, though, it was a last-minute stop of a driving Mississippi State team that preserved the win. The Bulldogs came ever so close to pushing the ball across the goal line twice on the final drive -- once on a leap by running back Vick Ballard that went out of bounds just short, and yet again on the last play of the game, when Auburn stopped quarterback Chris Relf with the ball just inches from the goal line.
This is the same Auburn team that used a last-minute onsides kick and drive to finally put down a challenge from upstart Utah State last week. Maybe they only play well with their backs against the wall.
In any case, the game was not a showcase for supposedly superior SEC defenses. The teams combined for 52 first downs, 912 total yards and, of course, 75 points. Three players -- Relf, Ballard and Michael Dyer -- rushed for more than 100 yards. It was eerily reminiscent of last year's Arkansas-Auburn game, without the national championship implications.
At least, you would think. There's only so many times you can run towards the end of the cliff before you fall off.
Auburn roared out of the gate against Mississippi, then let the Bulldogs back into the game in a back-and-forth first half. But in the second half, the Tigers have taken control.
After building a 31-24 halftime lead and trading field goals with Mississippi State in the third quarter, Auburn has padded its advantage with a fourth quarter touchdown on a pass from Barrett Trotter to Philip Lutzenkirchen, and now leads 41-27 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Gus Malzahn's offense has done most of its damage with a relentless running game. The Tigers have 225 rushing yards with most of the fourth quarter left to play, and are averaging nearly seven yards per carry. Three separate Tigers — Michael Dyer, Onterio McCalebb, and Tre Mason — have carries of more than 10 yards, too.
The final score in the Mississippi State-Auburn game this year will not be 3-2. It's not even going to be last years' 17-14 slog. At this point, 300-200 might not be entirely out of the question. This time, the two teams are having the barnburner that everyone expected.
The lines are pretty impressive, at least for the offenses. Mississippi State: 14 first downs, 246 yards, two total touchdowns. Auburn: 12 first downs, 229 yards, fhree total touchdowns. All as part of 55 first-half points -- Auburn 31, Mississippi State 24 -- that has turned this into one of the more exciting early Week 2 games. When not distracted by their obvious indifference to what the offenses are doing, the defenses are contributing to the pointspalooza, with each team having an interception return for a touchdown also on the stat sheet.
Clean or crisply-played game? Not really. The two teams have already racked up 135 penalty yards on 14 flags -- again, in the first half. Even the referees are going to have sore arms when this is over.
Mississippi State offensive lineman James Carmon suffered an apparent knee injury late in the second quarter of the Bulldogs' game at Auburn. Carmon, the Bulldogs' left tackle, had his knee rolled during a play, and was unable to get up.
Carmon covered his face as he was carted off the field. A senior, Carmon became the Bulldogs' starter at left tackle after Derek Sherrod went to the Green Bay Packers in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft, and contributed to Mississippi State's onslaught against Memphis in Week 1 of the college football season. The Bulldogs put up 59 points on Memphis, rushing for 309 yards and throwing for 336.
Carmon was replaced by Blaine Causell, who immediately caught the ball on a screen pass intended for Mississippi State running back Vick Ballard and was flagged for illegal touching.
Coming into this week's Mississippi State-Auburn game, the team facing the biggest question was Auburn: Was it an anomaly that the defending national champion had to fight off a challenge from Utah State out of the WAC in Week 1, or would the Tigers struggle to compete in the SEC this week? So far, go with the former. In fact, it looks like we might be headed for a track meet.
Auburn started out with a 14-0 lead, starting with a 35-yard run by Michael Dyer. The second score came in slightly less conventional fashion, when State quarterback Chris Relf bounced a pass off the head of an Auburn defender and into the waiting hands of Demetruce McNeal, who returned the interception 44 yards for the score.
The next drive went slightly better for Mississippi State, when LaDarius Perkins scored on a 40-yard run to cut the lead in half. And Relf redeemed himself on the next series, throwing a 15-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Heavens. Hold on -- this one could get interesting.
Auburn host Mississippi State at home, but they're underdogs after last week's struggles against Utah State. The Tigers' defense will have their hands full with Vick Ballard and Chris Relf on the ground.