AUBURN, Ala. – To fully understand what happened to the Mississippi State football team Saturday, you have to go back to Auburn’s first touchdown of the night.
Tigers running back JaTarvious Whitlow took Auburn’s first play from scrimmage 30 yards, and once he reached paydirt, completely bulldozed Mississippi State’s beloved live mascot, Bully. By accident, of course, the guy isn’t a monster.
Sadly for anyone wearing a Maroon and White jersey, Auburn players running over Bulldogs was an all-too-familiar concept for the rest of the evening in the Tigers’ 56-23 drubbing of MSU at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
After taking the hit like a champ, the adorable pooch had to briefly leave the Mississippi State sideline before later returning. For a short time, checking in on the well-being of the four-legged creature was far more important than watching Auburn’s absolute decimation of the Bulldogs.
But when the doggo was good to go, fans were forced to pay attention to the worst game of the Joe Moorhead era, by far.
Just looking at the scoreboard, No. 7 Auburn 56, Mississippi State 23, tells the whole story. The Bulldogs were outmanned, outplayed, and frankly, embarrassed.
“To come out and spot them 21 points before the band even gets in their seats, you don’t give yourself a chance,” a frustrated Moorhead said in his postgame press conference. “The first and the biggest thumb goes back to me.”
Moorhead has used that latter line more than once in his two-year tenure. And while he certainly deserves some flack for the poor showing, the tape will show there’s plenty of blame to go around.
Two delay of game penalties on the Bulldogs’ opening drive set a disastrous tone early for an offense that recorded -12 yards on its first two possessions. Starting quarterback Tommy Stevens had an injury that kept him from finishing a game for the third time this season. True freshman backup – well, in fairness we should probably call him the starter at this point – Garrett Shrader showed flashes of brilliance yet again, but still has plenty of development ahead of him. Kylin Hill, one of the best running backs in the SEC, was essentially taken out of the game once State fell behind so quickly.
MSU’s defense couldn’t have started on a worse foot, allowing 21 points on Auburn’s first eight plays. Though in fairness, they weren’t given much in terms of field position.
The Tigers ran the ball wherever and whenever they wanted. Freshman Bo Nix looked like a four-year veteran. MSU’s defensive line was pushed around and manhandled and the secondary wasn’t much better. Auburn racked up a whopping 578 total offensive yards and scored nearly double the amount of points in a single game MSU has under Moorhead’s leadership (31 two games ago against Kansas State). The Tigers also scored touchdowns on their first five offensive series.
That’s all a long-winded way of saying Mississippi State made numerous mistakes against a team where its margin for error was already razor-thin.
Look, I think deep down everyone expected this year’s defense to take a step back after losing three first round NFL draft picks. Regression seemed inevitable. Forgivable, even. And it should be said Auburn is a terrific football team fully deserving of its No. 7 ranking. But allowing 56 points to anyone is flat out unacceptable if you want to be considered a good football team.
“We said last week, we can’t let the cologne of victory cover up the stench of inefficiency,” Moorhead said. “In this game, we have to learn from the things we didn’t do well, then build off the things we did do well.”
It’s probably a good thing MSU is on a bye next week. The Bulldogs have plenty of players that could use the week of extra rest and the Mississippi State team that showed up to Auburn had the appearance of a squad needing a total reset.
The good news is, college football is so week-to-week sometimes that this blowout could soon be a distant memory when MSU takes on Tennessee in Knoxville in two weeks.
As for the bad news, if this is how MSU fares against elite competition in the Southeastern Conference, the looming Louisiana State and Alabama contests don’t look promising.
Time will tell whether this was just a blowout that inspired a successful season, or the beginning stages of a flawed team showing its warts.
Hodge is the former sports editor for The Dispatch.