AUBURN, Ala. — Saturday’s game had a storybook ending for the Auburn Tigers.
Freshman quarterback Kodi Burns came in and sparked Auburn’s struggling offense to a . . . wait, scratch that.
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Fifth-year quarterback Brandon Cox was benched in the first quarter, but came back to lead a come-from-behind . . .
Oh, never mind. Here’s what really happened.
Auburn’s struggling offense did get a boost from Burns, who came on in place of an ineffective Cox in the first quarter. However, there was no happy ending for Auburn on Saturday against Mississippi State.
With the Tigers down by five points, Cox drove the Tigers the length of the field in the final minutes, but couldn’t rewrite Auburn’s awkward fairy tale. His fourth-down pass from the Mississippi State 9 fell incomplete in the end zone and the Bulldogs escaped with a mammoth 19-14 win over the reeling Tigers in front of 82,129 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Auburn (1-2, 0-1 SEC) lost back-to-back games for the first time since 2003 when the Tigers fell to Ole Miss and Georgia late in the year.
"It was one of those games where we felt like we could get control of it," Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said. "We didn’t. We never did. We let them hang in there too long."
The Bulldogs (2-1, 1-1) pulled off another big upset for the rebuilding program. Christian Ducre’ scored on a 5-yard run with 5:15 left in the game for the winning points. He also rambled 18 yards on a crucial third-and-12 just moments before that.
"It is tough telling people that we are getting better because we still have to go out there every day and prove it, but this is the kind of win that shows people that we aren’t just talking, but playing," Ducre’ said in a release.
Auburn came oh-so-close to getting the results it wanted thanks to a change of pace at quarterback. With Burns in the game, the Tigers shifted to an option offense with Burns either keeping the ball, handing off or pitching to a back.
It worked for a while — Auburn rallied from a 13-0 deficit with a pair of second-quarter touchdowns.
However, the Bulldogs adjusted throughout the third quarter and forced Auburn to punt the ball. Turnovers continued to plague the Tigers as they had five — two Cox interceptions, a Burns interception and two fumbles. Auburn turned it over five times in the loss to South Florida a week ago.
Burns rushed for 58 yards and a touchdown in the first half and finished with 87 yards on 22 carries. Ben Tate, who rushed for 91 yards on 15 carries, scored on a powerful 28-yard run. Then Auburn caught a break with a fumble recovery on the ensuing kickoff and took the lead at 14-13 with a 1-yard Burns sneak.
"A lot of those (runs) were just one tackle away," Burns said. "A lot of the team kind of went out there looking for a playmaker, looking for energy or something. When I go out there on the field, I expect to get first downs and I expect to score."
The questions all week centered around whether Auburn would play the freshman phenom. Two plays into the game, it was answered. On Auburn’s first play from scrimmage, Cox’s pass to tight end Cole Bennett was tipped and scooped by the Bulldogs’ Derek Pegues, who returned it 20 yards for a touchdown and a 10-0 Bulldog lead.
On Auburn’s second possession, Cox threw a pass into triple coverage and it was intercepted. That brought on Burns amid massive cheers and chants of "Kodi, Kodi," from the Auburn fans.
Cox said he knew what was coming following the second pick.
"I went ahead and accepted it," Cox said. "Coach said Kodi was going in to see what he could do. He did a really good job. The plan was to play Kodi in this game from the beginning, to come in for certain situations. Once we had that second interception, he got a bigger role."
Coaches refused to comment on what role the quarterbacks will play next week when the Tigers host New Mexico State.
"We’ll look at it and talk to the head coach and make that decision," offensive coordinator Al Borges said.
Like the first two games, Auburn’s offense found itself trying to dig out of a hole early. Mississippi State drove down the field for a field goal, then took advantage of the tipped pass for a 10-0 lead. Another drive yielded a field goal and the 14-13 lead.
MSU quarterback Michael Henig left the game in the first quarter with a broken bone in his throwing hand. Auburn failed to get much pressure on backups Wesley Carroll and Josh Riddell, who alternated after that.
Carroll, however, guided the Bulldogs on the game-winning drive, moving the ball 44 yards after Burns was intercepted. MSU rushed for 172 yards against the Tigers, including several key third-down runs.
"They did a good job running the ball, got a hat on a hat and whipped us up front," Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp said.
Contact Christa Turner at 706-571-8505