STARKVILLE, Miss. — Mississippi State entered the halftime locker room against Auburn on Saturday gasping for air, completely choked out of a chance to win.
According to Auburn freshman defensive end Marlon Davidson, the Tigers gave the Bulldogs more room to breathe after the break — and that was unacceptable.
“We lost our focus. We took our foot of their throats, man,” Davidson said after Auburn’s 38-14 win over Missisippi State. “We gave up some big plays. That’s our mistake.”
After completely dominating its hosts in the first half — the Tigers outscored Mississippi State 35-0 before the break and outgained the Bulldogs 335-91 — Auburn relaxed in the second half, allowing a pair of touchdowns and 198 yards.
In a pile of positives from the road victory, the second half took some of the shine off a comfortable win.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said he didn’t see it that way. When he was asked about what happened to his team in the second half against Mississippi State, he just referenced the Davis Wade Stadium scoreboard that was weighted toward the Tigers.
“We were up 35-0,” Malzahn said. “Ain’t going to be no negative from me today.”
The big lead was enough reasoning for how Auburn played offensively in the second half against Mississippi State. The Tigers attempted just 2 passes after halftime and stuck to working the clock with a ground game that already lost one player to injury.
Auburn’s offense made its share of second-half mistakes, including a Kamryn Pettway fumble, a bad sack for Sean White and a Jalen Harris holding call that wiped out a John Franklin III touchdown run. Those plays contributed to what felt like a letdown for Auburn, but the Tigers built a big enough cushion that it wasn’t harped on in the postgame.
That attitude didn’t carry over to the defense, which sounded upset after giving up 14 second-half points.
“We played good in the first half but didn’t live up to our expectations in the second half,” junior defensive end Carl Lawson said. “I feel like we shouldn’t have let up any points. We should have gotten a goose egg.”
All but two of Mississippi State’s 7 “chunk plays” — ones that go for 10-plus yards — came in the second half. Missed tackles and coverages were to blame on a few of them, including the 37-yard touchdown pass to Keith Mixon in the third quarter that ended Auburn’s hopes of a shutout.
But Auburn’s defensive stars won’t stew on the uninspiring second half too much. They led the way in one of the Tigers’ best first-half performances in recent memory and even scored points of their own.
“I feel like we played pretty good in the first half,” said senior defensive tackle Montravius Adams, who recorded that defensive touchdown late in the second quarter. “After they scored that first touchdown, our goal was to come out and keep them at 0. But I feel like after they scored that first touchdown that we let up a little bit … Everyone always has stuff to work on, so we’ve got that to deal with.”
After all, Auburn hasn’t been in an early blowout situation much recently, especially in conference play. The next time it happens, the Tigers will be ready to keep their foot down for all 60 minutes.
“It was a great learning experience,” Lawson said. “I don’t think we’ve been up like that all season, at least not on an SEC opponent.”