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Updated: Early lead helps Mississippi State hand Auburn fifth straight SEC loss

MICHAEL NIZIOLEK

mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Auburn redshirt freshman Sean White provided the sellout crowd at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday night glimpses of why he might be the Tigers’ future, but Dak Prescott continues to prove he’s the best quarterback in the SEC right now.

While the Tigers offense looked better than it had the last two weeks with Jeremy Johnson at the helm, White's success wasn’t nearly enough to overcome a 14-0 first half deficit.

Prescott shredded a revamped Auburn secondary early, and did enough in the second half to lead the Bulldogs to a 17-9 win.

"We lost, so anytime as a quarterback you want to pull out a win," White said. "I think I did okay and I think I did some good things, but at the end of the day you want to win."

In the first half, Prescott was 16 of 20 for 180 yards, orchestrating two 70-plus yard scoring drives. 

His first touchdown was a 32-yard throw to Gabe Myles right through the middle of the defense.

Myles blew past defensive back Rudy Ford, and Auburn safety Tray Matthews to provide Prescott a wide-open target at the goal line.

Prescott picked on first-time starter Daniel Carlson for his second touchdown, hitting De’Runnya Wilson in the corner of the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown.

Auburn was torched last week by LSU running back Leonard Fournette, but Mississippi State didn’t need to rely on its ground game thanks to Prescott spreading the ball around.

Going into halftime, the Bulldogs had 20 yards rushing on seven carries as Prescott completed passes to seven different receivers.

"You know those dink and dunk passes will really hurt you and they keep moving the chains," safety Blake Countess said. "You have to get off the field on third down, and we did a better job in the second half of that, but we got in that 14 point deficit and couldn't get out of it."

The offense did a better job rebounding from last week’s disaster in Baton Rouge statistically, but its failure in the red zone overwhelmed those improvements.

Auburn couldn't come away with a touchdown on its first four trips into the red zone, and had no points the first two times it made it inside the 20.

"The story of the game is we were in the red zone four times, and we scored six points," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said.

On the game’s opening drive, White confidently led Auburn down to MSU’s 5-yard line.

He completed four passes to different targets for first downs. The lone mistake White made on the series was a costly one. He tried to score on third down by throwing the ball across his body, but the pass was picked off at the 1-yard line.

The first half came to a disappointing end for Auburn when it failed to score any points on its longest drive of the season.

Auburn relied on Kerryon Johnson and Peyton Barber to power the offense on a 15-play, 67-yard drive. Barber carried seven times for 30 yards while Johnson had a career-best 11-yard run.

The Tigers failed to score again despite three attempts from the 2-yard line.

"I thought we ran the ball pretty efficiently," Malzahn said. "We are a run and play action team. One of the positives is that we got back to running the football."

On third down, Auburn lost 8 yards on a bad snap. The drive ended with Daniel Carlson missing a 26-yard field goal wide right.

In the second half, Daniel Carlson hit a pair of field goals, 30- and 25-yards, thanks to the defense stopping the Bulldogs on back-to-back possessions for the first time.

Defensive back Carlton Davis forced a fumble, and Mississippi State punted on its next drive.

"I think the defense played great for us, and kept giving us opportunities," White said.

White wasn't the lone player responsible for the lack of points, and Malzahn credited with him for a poised performance in his first start.

“Overall, I thought he did a solid job for his first college experience, period," Malzahn said. "He did some good things and he made a mistake or two. We thought he would make a mistake or two. Anytime you’re playing an SEC opponent, especially in the West, and you've got a guy making his first start, there are going to be some mistakes. But, I think everyone saw that he competed."

Michael Niziolek covers Auburn football for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Email him at mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com or follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+

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