STARKVILLE, Miss. — Auburn’s defense came into its first road game of 2016 wanting three to do three main things — take the ball away, score some points of its own and turn down the volume inside Davis Wade Stadium.
All three were accomplished before the halftime break Saturday.
Auburn’s defense pitched a first-half shutout of Mississippi State’s offense that was highlighted by 2 turnovers, including one that turned into an exclamation point of a touchdown by defensive tackle Montravius Adams.
“That was our goal for this game,” true freshman defensive end Marlon Davidson said. “(Defensive coordinator Kevin) Steele told us, ‘How about we score one on defense?'”
And even with a letdown of a second half in which it allowed almost 200 yards, Steele’s defense still held the Bulldogs to just 2 scores in a 38-14 victory. Mississippi State’s 289 yards of total offense were the fewest Auburn allowed against an SEC opponent since a 2014 rout of LSU.
“It was a big statement for Auburn, because Auburn isn’t known for defense. It’s always been a powerhouse offense,” Davidson said. “Coming off last year and give up just 14 points, (opponents) can’t win with that. It’s amazing.”
Davidson got his own highlight, too, against Mississippi State. On the Bulldogs’ first sustained drive of the game, he hit MSU quarterback Nick Fitzgerald from the blind side and jarred the ball loose. Adams landed on it, taking a scoring opportunity away from the hosts.
“Every week our defense has done something that’s the sign of a big-time defense,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “Every week they’ve answered the bell.”
This week, that bell was actually thousands of bells — the cowbells that make Davis Wade Stadium a uniquely loud atmosphere in SEC play.
Davidson’s strip-sack of Fitzgerald was one of 3 sacks and 6 tackles for loss Auburn had in the cowbell-covered venue Saturday. Junior defensive end Carl Lawson had the other pair of sacks as he lead the way for a dominant defensive line. One of those sacks led to Adams’ scoop and score late in the second quarter.
“If it weren’t for Carl getting there and rushing I wouldn’t have been able to get it,” Adams said. “I just say thank you to God and thank you to Carl.”
By the time Adams found his way into the end zone, the loud clanging was being replaced by frustrated booing from the Mississippi State faithful.
“I thought it was going to be louder than that, actually,” Davidson said. “When I came here on a visit when they played Auburn two years ago, it was so loud. It was crazy.”
And just like the case was in the game Davidson attended as a high school junior in 2014, Auburn turned the ball over on its first possession of the game. A dropped pass turned into an interception deep in Auburn territory, but the Tigers defense held strong and forced a field-goal try.
The short attempt struck an upright, ensuring Auburn wouldn’t trail in what would quickly turn into a lopsided SEC West affair highlighted by the constant defensive front pressure and the 8 pass breakups from the Tigers secondary.
“They got their hands on a lot of balls,” Steele told Auburn’s radio network after the game. “The ball was coming out quick and usually when it’s coming out quick, you don’t get sacks like we did, and certainly turnover sacks for a score. But it gave the opportunity for our defensive backs to really make him squeeze the ball.”