Second straight game over 500 total yards
By ANDY BITTER
AUBURN, Ala. — Three to two this wasn’t.
A year after an ugly, low-scoring win at Mississippi State signaled that everything wasn’t right with Auburn’s offense, a runaway 49-24 victory against those same Bulldogs on Saturday night suggests everything might be better than expected.
Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn’s fast-paced attack racked up 589 yards against Mississippi State in its SEC opener before 85,269 at Jordan-Hare Stadium, surpassing the 556 it gained in the season opener against Louisiana Tech.
It’s the first time since 1970 that the Tigers have topped 500 yards of offense in back-to-back games.
“It’s very innovative, and it’s fun to watch,” said Gene Chizik, who improved to 2-0 as Auburn’s head coach. “From a defensive background, it’s problematic in a lot of ways.”
Auburn (1-0 SEC) has won 51 consecutive games when scoring 30 or more points, a streak dating back to 1996. The Tigers haven’t had an offensive night quite like Saturday’s in SEC play since 2005, when they put up exactly 49 points and 586 yards in a win at Kentucky.
“I think it’s 11 people buying into an offense and working their hardest to run it, coming together and being a brotherhood,” left tackle Lee Ziemba said.
The Tigers ran for 390 yards. Ben Tate, despite sitting out the first quarter because of a coach’s decision, ran for a career-high 157 yards and a touchdown and Onterio McCalebb added 114 yards and a score. It marked the first time in Auburn history two players rushed for over 100 yards in back-to-back games.
Malzahn thought this kind of success might be possible heading into the season.
“We knew that our front five, we knew that they were a solid offensive line, and we knew we had some backs who could be change of pace,” he said. “And so far they’ve really bought in to what we’re doing.”
Quarterback Chris Todd continued to find his comfort zone in the offense, going 10-for-23 for 186 yards. He developed a solid rapport with receiver Darvin Adams, who shook off a few early drops to catch five passes for 116 yards, both career highs.
And Wildcat triggerman Kodi Burns, who moved from quarterback to receiver in August, continued to evolve into the multi-use threat coaches envisioned. He ran for three 1-yard scores out of the single-wing formation and threw a confused Bulldogs defense for a loop in the third quarter, when he pulled up after a play-action fake out of the Wildcat and lobbed a touchdown pass to a wide open Philip Lutzenkirchen.
“I really didn’t know what to expect when (the position change) first happened,” Burns said. “It was pretty much a disappointment, but it’s this year. I’ve just got to go out there and do what I can for my team.”
Auburn went into halftime with a 28-17 halftime lead that could have been bigger if not for a pair of special teams miscues. Clinton Durst shanked a punt midway through the second quarter, leading to a Mississippi State field goal.
On the next possession, Durst had his punt blocked by Patrick Hanrahan. Robert Elliott picked it up and rumbled 10 yards for the score, giving the Bulldogs their first lead of the game at 17-14 with 4:44 remaining before the half.
But the Tigers answered right back in lightning quick fashion. McCalebb took an option pitch from Todd and burst up the left sideline, running past the defense for a 43-yard touchdown that made it 21-14 Auburn.
After a Bulldogs three-and-out, the Tigers raced down the field, moving 78 yards in eight plays before Burns punched it in with 16 seconds left to give Auburn an 11-point lead heading into the locker room.
The Tigers put things away after the break. Burns’ touchdown pass to Lutzenkirchen made it an 18-point game with 3:52 left in the third quarter. Tate broke a 35-yard run up the sideline for a touchdown 2 1/2 minutes later to give Auburn a 42-17 lead.
“This game is a game of momentum swings,” Chizik said. “When the offense had a chance to step up and get some momentum back, they did. When the defense had a chance to step up and get some three-and-outs, it did. That’s why I was proud to see our team step up and answer the bell on all sides.”
Auburn’s defense limited Bulldogs quarterbacks Chris Relf and Tyson Lee to only 130 passing yards. The Tigers had two interceptions, one by defensive end Antonio Coleman, who returned it 20 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter.
Overall, the Tigers held Mississippi State to 126 yards and only seven points in the second half.
“It’s crazy,” Coleman said. “We were giving up all the points in the second half last year. We focus on finishing now. That’s what we do.”