AUBURN, Ala. — Getting one more sack to tie Auburn’s career record has stayed on the mind of defensive end Quentin Groves.
It’s to the point where it’s distracting now, prompting Groves to apologize to his teammates. He took the blame for a crucial 18-yard pickup by Mississippi State’s Christian Ducre’ which set up the Bulldogs’ game-winning touchdown in a 19-14 win.
"It’s my fault. Shame on me," Groves said. "I think I was overplaying it. This whole thing with the record and all that BS. Not trying to make excuses, but I think it was getting to me a little bit. I apologize to all my teammates. That was a part of it. I tried to play out of my defense and I couldn’t make any plays."
Like last week, Groves, who has 25 career sacks and two in 2007, came close several times. At one point, he had MSU backup quarterback Josh Riddell in his hands, but couldn’t bring him down. Before he walked off the field, Groves stopped and looked skyward, as if asking, "What do I have to do?"
Groves posted two sacks in the season opener against Kansas State, and although he has a number of quarterback pressures, he hasn’t recorded one since then.
Auburn’s defense gave up 172 yards rushing to the Bulldogs, including 103 yards to Anthony Dixon.
Injuries along the offensive line prompted some scrambling for offensive line coach Hugh Nall.
Left tackle King Dunlap hyper-extended his left elbow in the second quarter, said backup Andrew McCain, who played the remainder of the game.
"It was giving him trouble, so I got called on to step out there," McCain, a sophomore said. "I know it’s frustrating for him and Leon (Hart) both being seniors, to have to deal with injuries like that. I was glad to get an opportunity."
McCain called his first opportunity to play in a game on the offensive line "nerve-wracking."
Hart entered the game in the first quarter in place of Mike Berry, but left with a left shoulder injury. His status is unknown. Berry came out holding his arm later in the game and was replaced by Antwoin Daniels, but re-entered the game.
Start it up
There were several new additions to the Auburn starting lineup.
Redshirt freshman receiver Tim Hawthorne got his first shot to show what he can do. Coaches shifted Robert Dunn from slot receiver to flanker, displacing Prechae Rodriguez, who had a bumpy game against South Florida. That opened the door for Hawthorne at slot.
Patrick Tatum, who filled in for Ryan Shoemaker at punter last week, picked up the start against MSU. The Tigers also started linebacker Chris Evans for Tray Blackmon again. Blackmon, who has been hobbled by an ankle injury, was announced as a starter, but didn’t play. Courtney Harden played at weakside linebacker for Merrill Johnson.
"We evaluated him in pre-game and he just did not move around well enough," defensive coordinator Will Muschamp said about Blackmon.
Patrick Lee made the start at cornerback in place of Jonathan Wilhite. Although he didn’t start, safety Aairon Savage did play, Muschamp said. Eric Brock earned the start.
Wilhite has struggled with a hamstring injury he sustained during Auburn’s opener and could be back by New Mexico State. Shoemaker dislocated his left elbow against South Florida, and is projected to return by the Florida game.
MSU quarterback Michael Henig grew up an Auburn fan and has eagerly anticipated a chance to lead his Bulldogs to a win in Jordan-Hare Stadium, especially since Auburn did not offer the Montgomery, Ala., native a scholarship.
He was MSU’s starting quarterback a year ago, but a broken collarbone kept him from playing against Auburn. On Saturday, he guided the Bulldogs to a field goal on the opening drive, but his bad luck continued.
Henig broke a bone in his throwing hand and did not return to the game. Freshman Wesley Carroll replaced Henig.
"We didn’t plan on losing Mike, but the great thing is the other players didn’t let it bother them," MSU coach Sylvester Croom said.
Two former Auburn coaches and a former sports information director were honored during pregame ceremonies for their induction into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. Swimming and diving coach David Marsh, former basketball coach Sonny Smith and sports information director David Housel were inducted as part of the 2007 class. . . . Nova, a golden eagle, made the flight around the stadium before the game. . . . Rod Smith led Auburn’s receivers with four catches for 78 yards with two coming on the final drive. . . . Chris Evans led the defense with eight tackles, while Pat Sims had five tackles, including four for a loss.