September 10, 2011

Dogs come up an inch short at Auburn

AUBURN, Ala., - The nation's longest winning streak was in severe jeopardy again on Saturday.

But defending national champion Auburn was able to stop Mississippi State quarterback Chris Relf an inch short of the goal line as time expired to preserve a 41-34 victory over the 16th ranked Bulldogs.

"I didn't have our team ready to go for that final inch," said MSU head coach Dan Mullen. "We came up an inch short. I think our players played hard. They believed. We had a couple of different deficits we fought back from at different times. They never quit. They never will in our program. That's what our program is based on. We have to find a way to make that final inch. That's about where we are right now as a program.

"As a coaching staff and as a football team, we have got to find a way to get that final inch. That's what is separating us from being a great team."

MSU had two cracks at the end zone from the 1-yard line with 18-seconds remaining but the Tigers defense stood strong with a game-saving tackle by Ryan Smith[d/b] lifting them to 2-0 on the season.

"We prefer to win games a lot differently than we are but there is something to be said for knowing that you can fight down to the end when it doesn't look good and still be able to win the game," said Auburn head coach [db]Gene Chizik. "At the end of the day it doesn't matter how you do it, it just matters that you do it."

The Bulldogs were favored in the contest by seven points but spotted Auburn 14 points in the game's first 3:21. State committed five penalties and turned the ball over for a pick-six during that span.

"We spotted them 14 points and I wish we had those 14 points right now," Mullen said. "It came back to hurt us."

The Tigers ended the day with 381 yards of offense with 235 yards on the ground and another 146 through the air.

Michael Dyer was the workhorse back for Auburn carrying 18 times for 150 yards and two touchdowns averaging 8.3 yards per carry.

"When we hit the field, that's all we think about - doing what we have to do every time," Dyer said. "Our offensive line are the ones that deserve the credit. They are the ones that came through today."

Barrett Trotter completed 16-of-23 passing for 146 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in just his second career start for the Tigers.

Trotter's favorite target on the day was Emory Blake, who made seven grabs for 108 yards and a score in the win for Auburn.

"I think we are all clicking," Blake said. "We were all making plays out there. It was a great overall win for the team and we just need to keep on trucking."

Auburn got things rolling on their first possession taking advantage of good field position at the MSU 36-yard line following three Bulldog penalties. Dyer got the Tigers on the board breaking loose on a 35-yard touchdown down the right sideline. Cody Parkey provided the extra point for the early lead.

Auburn again capitalized on more Bulldog mistakes. Relf was picked off on a tipped pass by Demetruce McNeal and returned 44-yards for a touchdown. Parkey again booted the PAT to put the Tigers up 14-0 just over three minutes into the game.

Mississippi State finally got into a groove offensively on the following drive. The Bulldogs needed only three plays to reach pay dirt as LaDarius Perkins raced up the left sideline 44-yards and diving over the pylon after an option pitch from Relf. Derek DePasquale came on for the point after pulling the score within 14-7 with 10:38 to play in the opening quarter.

MSU was able to tie the game on their next possession marching 67 yards in eight plays and moving the chains four times. Relf hit a wide open Brandon Heavens in the corner of the end zone from 15-yards out. DePasquale's extra point nodded the game at 14.

The Bulldogs gained their first lead of the afternoon early in the second quarter. Johnthan Banks notched his third career pick-six intercepting Trotter and taking it back 27-yards for the score. DePasquale's PAT was up and good putting State ahead 21-14.

But Auburn was able to answer right back. Tre Mason returned the ensuing kickoff to near midfield and facing 3rd-and-14, Trotter connected with a wide open Blake over the middle for a 46-yard scoring strike. Parkey's point after tied things again with 8:37 to go in the second.

The Tigers responded once more with another score after holding Mississippi State to three-and-out on the next drive. Auburn moved 59-yards in six plays capped off by a 2-yard plunge by Dyer across the goal line. Parkey's extra point gave the Tigers back the lead 28-21 with 4:51 to play before the half.

MSU was able to add one final score before the end of the half marching 70-yards in 11-plays to set up a 27-yard field goal by DePasquale to pull the Bulldogs within 28-24 with 40-seconds to play in the first half.

But Auburn was able to salvage another score before halftime. The Tigers took advantage of a State personal foul penalty to set up a 43-yard field by Parkey to take a 31-24 lead into the locker room.

Auburn added another field goal to start the second half. Mason returned the opening kickoff of the third quarter 41-yards to midfield to eventually set up a 37-yard field goal by Parkey.

The Bulldogs responded with a field goal of their own on their first possession of the half. Mississippi State drove the ball 65 yards in 10-plays setting up a 32-yard try for DePasquale to pull his team within 34-27 with 9:12 to go in the third quarter.

Late in the third the Tigers elected to go for it on 4th-and-1 from the MSU 31-yard lineand Dyer was stacked up at the line of scrimmage. After stopping the clock to measure the play it was ruled that Auburn indeed came up with the first down.

"When the officiating crew put the first down stake in its final position, the nose of theball was touching the stake making it a first down," wrote SEC coordinator of officials Steve Shaw in a statement following the game.

With the drive now extended, the Tigers finished off the 10-play, 92 yard drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Trotter to Philip Lutzenkirchen. Parkey's point after put the Tigers up 41-27.

Trailing by two scores with 8:24 to play, State went to work on the comeback. The Bulldogs marched 83-yards in 12 plays with Vick Ballard scoring from 3-yards out. DePasquale's extra point was true pulling Mississippi State within a touchdown with 4:51 remaining.

The Bulldogs defense held Auburn to three-and-out and gave the ball back to its offense with just under three minutes to play. MSU maneuvered 66-yards in 11 plays but came up an inch short on the final play and fell to 1-1 on the year.

"I was real close," Relf said. "It felt like I was in but he hit me at my knees and I went over."

The Bulldogs offense racked up 531 yards on the afternoon gaining 333 rushing and another 198 via the air.

Ballard led Mississippi State with 199 yards of offense gaining 135 yards rushing on 21 carries and a touchdown while also hauling in five passes for 64 yards.

Relf finished the day 20-of-33 passing for 195 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He also eclipsed the 100-yard plateau on the ground with 106 yards on 27 totes.

"I thought he played with a lot of confidence," Mullen said of Relf. "He made the call on the last play. He had three options and he chose the run. I like that. I liked the confidence in Chris. You could go pass-pass, pass-run or just run. Chris said he felt great about the run call and the kid made a heck of an open field tackle."

Darren Bates led Auburn's defense with 12 tackles followed by Neiko Thorpe with 11 and Nosa Eguae with nine.

Corey Lemonier had the only Tiger sack in the contest while McNeal snagged the only interception.

The Bulldogs were paced defensively by Cameron Lawerence's 14 stops including one sack and 3.5 tackles for loss and one forced fumble. Charles Mitchell made eight tackles while Brandon Wilson, Corey Broomfield and Wade Bonner finished with five stops each.

Banks' 27-yard interception return was State's only forced turnover.

The Bulldogs have to regroup fast hosting LSU in its home opener Thursday at 7 p.m.

"In the SEC you just have to go play," Mullen said. "It's week three of the season, most teams are still playing gimme directional schools. We played the defending national champions and now we are going to play, in my mind, the number one team in the nation. That's life in the Southeastern Conference. Psychologically, we are just going to buckle up and go play hard."

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