Gus Malzahn and Auburn weren’t going to win any style points at Davis Wade Stadium.
An apathetic offense that lasted more than three quarters of an action. Penalty flags littered the field in Starkville, Mississippi for much of the night. And a special teams failure in the fourth quarter led to a momentary crack on a defense that had been playing the lights all night.
In the end, the lack of style points didn’t matter – at least not on Saturday night. Auburn got the job done in its regular season finale, beating Mississippi State, 24-10, on Saturday night in a nasty game. The Tigers end the season at 6-4, and although they left town with the result they wanted, the way they got that win won’t do much to silence the noise that has surrounded Malzahn and his employment status after eight seasons of ups and downs.
Here are the main takeaways from AL.com’s game:
Defense takes care of business
Auburn’s defense played as well as could be expected against the Air Raid, and it gave the Tigers the upper hand on Saturday night in Starkville.
Kevin Steele, whose teams had struggled in three previous encounters with Mike Leach infractions, planned the game to perfection with the Bulldogs. Auburn was able to generate a strong pass rush and affect quarterback Will Rogers without having to bring in any additional blitzes, ending the game with six sacks, a season high.
The Tigers limited Rogers to 30 of 51 passes for 221 yards, including a pair of interceptions – one by Roger McCreary and Smoke Monday – that marked Rogers’ first since Halloween against Alabama. That included just 12 of 22 passes for 68 yards in the first half, when Auburn limited Mississippi State to 78 total offense yards and just one field goal.
Auburn has also tightened his biggest problem of the season – the third downs, as Auburn has been the worst in the SEC and among the worst defenses nationally this year. After allowing three consecutive teams to convert at least 60 percent of third-down attempts, Auburn limited Mississippi State to just 4 of 16 on cash, with just 1 of 7 in the first half.
Auburn’s offensive changes course
Auburn’s offense couldn’t do much against Mississippi State for most of the three quarters, totaling just 178 yards and averaging 3.6 yards per game going into the fourth quarter. The Tigers were content with three field goals after entering Bulldogs territory, including two red zone practices that stalled.
Auburn didn’t have a 40-yard drive in the first three quarters, and the team had a trio of three-and-outs in their first nine drives. The Tigers had another practice that ended at four, as well as a turnover on downs on a four-game possession in which Seth Williams dropped a pass from Bo Nix after the team fell. be aligned in his dog punt formation. Nix completed just 12 of 28 passes for 61 yards in three quarters.
In other words, it was ugly.
But unlike last week, when Auburn’s offense was three-quarterly successful before stalling in the fourth quarter against No.5 Texas A&M, the Tigers turned the tide against the Bulldogs. Auburn scored 16 points and totaled 165 yards in the lone fourth quarter, with Nix joining Williams for a 32-yard touchdown, and the quarterback scoring another rushing touchdown to make it a 14-point lead with 6:03. to play. The Tigers’ two late strikes totaled 95 and 75 yards, respectively.
Bigsby tank carries the load
Tank Bigsby has run out of steam since injuring his hip in Auburn’s win over Tennessee last month. The freshman running back looked like himself again on Saturday and it couldn’t have come at a better time for a struggling Auburn attack.
Bigsby rushed for a career-high 192 yards against a strong running defense from Mississippi State. The Bulldogs entered the day with the SEC’s No.4 defense in yards per game, but the league’s No.2 in yards per carry (3.28). Bigsby rocked that defense on Saturday, rushing for 80 yards on 10 carries in the first half before breaking the wall in the second half.
Bigsby had 112 rushing yards after halftime – including runs of 27, 15, 15 and 24 yards in the fourth quarter only – to bolster Auburn’s offense. He finished the game averaging 7.4 yards per carry.
Game player: Bigsby, who became Auburn’s third true rookie to stage four 100-yard games in one season, joining Bo Jackson and Michael Dyer at this exclusive club.
Game play: Nix’s 32-yard touchdown pass to Williams early in the fourth quarter seemed like a breakthrough for Auburn’s offense in what was a lousy game at the time, and it gave the Tigers a bit of respite down the stretch.
Tom Green is an Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Tomas_Verde.