Auburn had a few areas of concern entering its matchup against Mississippi State. The first road game of the year returned the Tigers to SEC play and also had the earliest scheduled kickoff time of the season.
None of those factors (or the clanging cowbells) were much of an issue, though.
At this point Auburn’s defense is used to the spotlight. In fact, Kevin Steele’s group refuses to budge an inch out of the limelight. Pressure and big stops happened consistently and the defense ultimately added some turnovers they had been seeking for several games.
Offensively the Tigers were productive against Mississippi State. Sophomore Kamryn Pettway took over for an injured Kerryon Johnson (no details about the injury, but it appeared to be a lower body injury) and had one of his most active days of the year.
Auburn’s stock will rise overall. Here’s why:
- Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele has set high standards for his defense and the unit continues meeting any and all of his expectations. It all stems from — as senior defensive back Josh Holsey said earlier this week — with the Tigers’ defensive line. So many big plays start there it’s difficult at times to tell who exactly the leader is or where the spark comes from. Anyone — whether it’s junior captain Carl Lawson (3 sacks) or true freshman Marlon Davidson — can make an impact at any point. The key against Mississippi State may have been senior Montravius Adams, who recovered a fumble (which Lawson forced) for the first score of his career in the second quarter. The entire Auburn program is dependent on the defensive line this season, and that’s fine by them.
- The nice thing about having a one-two punch in the backfield is that when one player is banged up (as Kerryon Johnson was in this win) Kamryn Pettway can simply take over. The sophomore rushed for 169 yards, putting together one of his best days in an Auburn jersey. Despite a couple of mistakes, such as his fumble (recovered by Mississippi State) with 3:39 remaining in the third quarter, Pettway was again powerful and consistent for Auburn. The most impressive thing about Pettway may have been his 39 carries, which were the most by an SEC running back this year and the fifth most for a back in the FBS this season.
- At the beginning of the season Auburn had several big questions to answer, particularly on offense. Freshmen and sophomores are playing critical roles for the Tigers this year, and this matchup against Mississippi State was a prime example. Kyle Davis (2 receptions for 34 yards) continues to be a big-play threat and freshman running back Kam Martin even showed some skill at receiver, too (42-yard reception). On the defensive side of the ball, DL Marlon Davidson continues to look a grown man instead of a newcomer.
- It appeared center Xavier Dampeer was dressed and ready to go in pregame warmups, but as the game got underway Darius James, a junior transfer from Texas, stepped in at left tackle and Austin Golson shifted over to center. After a rough start for the offensive line, Herb Hand’s group continues to improve and progress, helping Pettway take over on the ground.
- The defense looked like it relaxed a little bit in the second half of Auburn’s win. At times the play was sloppy and the Tigers allowed the Bulldogs to find the end zone twice. One of those allowances was granted by defensive back Tray Matthews, who as a junior, should be more of a lockdown player.
- You can’t hold anything against sophomore running back Kerryon Johnson for apparently suffering a lower body injury in the first half, but it’s not ideal. Kamryn Pettway picked up the slack, but overall Johnson’s stock didn’t rise or fall on the day.
- Again, you can’t fault a player for suffering an injury, but Xavier Dampeer’s injury may be more problematic. The former defensive lineman was getting his first significant playing time at center before the LSU game. Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said before the season began that a big key to Dampeer’s growth would be staying healthy, and that’s not playing out as the Tigers had hoped.