Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.|
Mississippi State running back Christian Ducre, right, signals touchdown as he put the Bulldogs ahead of Auburn to stay in Auburn on Saturday. Mississippi State upset the Tigers in Jordan-Hare Stadium 19-14.
Throwing one away
Turnovers doom Tigers for 2nd straight week
By Ross Dellenger
AUBURN — It was playing out like a miracle finish, like a magical ending, like just another one of Auburn’s heroic, inconceivable comebacks.
After being booed countless times and riding the bench for about three quarters, quarterback Brandon Cox was called upon to lead the Tigers to yet another come-from-behind victory.
He moved Auburn down the field in the final minutes, but a fourth-down pass fell incomplete at the goal line. And Auburn, a team that just two weeks ago was ranked 17th in the nation, tumbled at home for the second straight week.
A 121/2-point favorite, the Tigers fell behind early and couldn’t muster their once-routine fourth-quarter strength, losing to Mississippi State 19-14 in front of a stunned 82,129 at Jordan-Hare Stadium on a breezy Saturday afternoon.
Last week, it was South Florida, a team that began playing football in 1997.
This week, it was Mississippi State, a program that had won four Southeastern Conference games in three seasons.
Coach Tommy Tuberville’s white face told the story after what was possibly his most surprising home loss since his 24th-ranked Tigers were downed by unranked Arkansas in 2002.
“It was one of those games that we felt like we could get control of, and we never did,” he said afterward, his face still showing the signs of shock. “The biggest thing is we have to keep our morale and keep our intensity.”
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.|
Auburn running back Ben Tate scores the Tigers’ first touchdown as Mississippi State defender Derek Pegues attempts to make the tackle.
Cox threw two interceptions on his first two attempts, leading to the entrance of true freshman quarterback Kodi Burns for the Tigers’ third series. He sparked the offense early but failed to produce the same effect in the second half.
It was Cox, though, who got the call on the game’s last drive. He hopped off the pine and nearly led Auburn (1-2, 0-1 SEC) to a win, completing 12- and 23-yard passes to receiver Rod Smith.
Running back Ben Tate, who finished with 15 carries for 91 yards and a touchdown, had runs of 17 and 5 yards. And the Tigers found themselves with a first-and-goal at the Mississippi State 9-yard line with 2 minutes left, trailing by five.
But it wasn’t to be.
Cox’s first-down pass fell incomplete. His second-down pass to fullback Carl Stewart gained nothing, and a third-down attempt was tipped in the end zone and fell to the turf.
His fourth-down pass hit just inside the goal line, about 5 yards from Smith, the closest Auburn receiver.
“I felt like it should have been a flag. I felt like I was grabbed a little,” Smith said after the game.
But ultimately, “the throw wasn’t there,” Smith said.
Said Cox: “They had good coverage.”
As Cox’s pass tumbled incomplete, the northeast corner of Jordan-Hare Stadium erupted jubilantly as an eerie silence swallowed the rest of the venue. This time, instead of green-clad South Florida fans, it was a mob of maroon who bellowed with celebration.
“I’m sure some people would call it an upset, but we don’t care — we know who we are,” said fourth-year Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom, whose team broke a six-game losing streak against the Tigers. “We felt like it was a dead-even game coming in.”
It didn’t seem that way early, but only because it was the Bulldogs (2-1, 1-1) who jumped out to a 13-0 lead.
Safety Derek Pegues picked off Cox’s first pass of the game and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown. The pass hit tight end Cole Bennett’s fingertips and ricocheted into the air, before being caught by Pegues.
Bulldogs kicker Adam Carlson hit two field goals, and for the first time since 2001, Mississippi State had a lead against Auburn.
Mississippi State’s Anthony Johnson picked off Cox’s second attempt of the game, sending a rain of boos on the embattled quarterback, who has thrown six interceptions this season. He threw nine last year and eight in 2005.
Of being replaced, Cox said, “I went ahead and accepted it. (Kodi) did a really good job.”
Burns made his first appearance on the next series. He was welcomed with chants of “Kodi, Kodi, Kodi” from a raucous Auburn student section.
The Tigers moved down the field, slashing Mississippi State’s defense with a speed-option attack, utilizing Burns in the same way Florida did quarterback Tim Tebow last season.
The drive ended, though, with Burns getting sacked from his blind-side and fumbling 22 yards shy of the end zone.
He finished the day with 87 rushing yards on 22 carries. He went 8-for-12 passing for 65 yards.
Auburn matched its turnovers from last week with five Saturday: a Mario Fannin fumble, Cox’s two interceptions, a Burns interception and fumble.
The Tigers wasted another scoring opportunity in the third quarter when Fannin fumbled at the Mississippi State 16. And then midway through the fourth quarter, Burns lofted an underthrown ball down field. It was picked off by Bulldogs cornerback Demario Bobo.
Ten plays later, Mississippi running back Christian Ducre rumbled 5 yards against a flattened Auburn defense for the go-ahead score. The 2-point conversion failed, but the score stood up when Auburn’s last-ditch effort floundered.
“It’s tough,” Cox said. “It’s a long season. We’re not out of it.”
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