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The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

Penalties, injuries and big plays plague MSU in Auburn

Noah Siano | The Reflector

Running back Aeris Williams is tackled by multiple Auburn defenders. He gained 53 yards on 15 carries. 

AUBURN, AL – Mississippi State University (3-2, 1-2 SEC) traveled to Auburn, Alabama, with hopes to prove last week’s against Georgia was a fluke. Instead, MSU saw a lot of the same as last week, losing to Auburn University (4-1, 2-0 SEC) 49-10.

Auburn jumped out to an early 14-3 lead in the first quarter, but really poured it on the Bulldogs late, scoring three touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Running back Kerryon Johnson led Auburn, who had 116 yards on 23 carries and three touchdowns. Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham torched MSU, completing 13 of his 16 pass attempts for 264 yards.

Jeffrey Simmons was the lone bright spot statistically for MSU. Simmons made six tackles, recorded one sack, 1.5 tackles for loss and forced a fumble.
 Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald did not make any excuses about the game with the media afterwards.

“[We] just played terrible, honestly,” Fitzgerald said. “Just the past two games we have been bad. We had a great week of practice, we had great preparation, great game planning going in. We were just terrible, just terrible.

Big plays were killer for MSU

The old mantra for defenses is to bend but not break, but for MSU on Saturday night, they broke instead of bending. It started from the first possession. Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson broke the game open with a 59-yard run, giving Auburn a short field to work with and eventually take a 7-0 lead. MSU ended the game in a similar fashion, giving up a 67-yard touchdown run on Auburn’s last drive.

Auburn ran pass plays that went for 49-yards, 52-yards and 57-yards. They also scored on a 47-yard touchdown pass. MSU’s secondary, safeties especially, aggressively bit on route or rush fakes, allowing Auburn receivers to separate from MSU defensive backs and become wide open down the field.

Auburn scored a touchdown on the seven drives they had a play go for more than 40-yards. On the seven drives where they lacked a big play, they did not score.

On the night, MSU gave up 331 yards across six plays and gave up 180 across the other 50 plays Auburn ran.
Head coach Dan Mullen did not attribute the defensive breakdowns to one specific problem, saying it was probably something different each time.

“It is is not one thing,” Mullen said. “It is not, ‘okay that’s the issue’. Each play is probably going to have one or two little things. On this play this happened, on this play this happened and on this play this happened.” 

Receivers dropping passes

Many would agree the problem against Georgia was Fitzgerald’s inability to make throws down the field. However, Fitzgerald was accurate down the field tonight, but his receivers were dropping passes.

Many fans might look at Fitzgerald’s statline and think he played poorly. He had two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown. Overall, he had one of his better games, consistently hitting his receivers in the hands, but they were unable to make the catch

Multiple opportunities were missed due to drops. On a crucial third down, Fitzgerald hit Farrod Green in the numbers but he dropped the pass. Twice Fitzgerald hit his receivers in the hand and twice the ball bounced off of their hands and was picked off.
After the game Mullen attributed the issues to a young receiver group which is missing two starters. Neither senior Gabe Myles nor junior Malik Dear traveled with the team.

“Probably the youngest position on the team and you have two starters out,” Mullen said. “Young guys are getting some opportunities to make some plays. We do have to play better at that position and guys have to make plays.”

Penalties, penalties, penalties

The noise of the crowd got to the MSU defensive line on Saturday night. MSU had seven false starts, three of which were attributed to redshirt freshman right tackle Stewart Reese. Multiple times throughout the night MSU was looking at big downs and would make things more difficult on themselves by jumping before the snap.

MSU faced a crucial third and one in Auburn territory, but MSU’s offensive line jumped offsides twice, putting MSU in a third and 11 situation, which they did not convert. This was one of many examples of the offensive line putting MSU in a worse spot.
On the defensive side of the ball, on Auburn’s first drive of the second half, MSU had a chance to gain some momentum and hold Auburn to a field goal. On third and goal, Auburn ran a fade route to the back corner of the endzone. Tolando Cleveland had a perfect opportunity to knock the ball down if he had turned around and played the ball. Instead, he grabbed the Auburn receiver and was called for pass interference. Auburn scored on the following play.
“When you come play a team with the really young group of guys that we have,” Mullen said. “When you’re on the road in this environment, you have to want things to play out a certain way to be successful and they didn’t play out that way tonight.” 

On to the bye week

Next week, Mullen will take his team into a bye week after three straight games against top 15 opponents.

MSU was down four starters going into this game: the two receivers Dear and Myles, linebacker Traver Jung, and defensive tackle Cory Thomas. Then starting left tackle Martinas Rankin went down with a sprained ankle early in the game. He left the field in a boot.
Malik Dear and Gabe Myles were questionable going into this game, but did not play. Dear, Myles, Thomas and Jung are all expected back after the bye week and will provide a big boost to the depleted roster.
“For health reasons, I hope we have the time to get some guys back,” Mullen said. “We will see. At least health-wise we will hopefully be better going into the next game.”

Defensive tackle Jeffrey Simmons also talked about what he wants the defense to improve on in the bye week.

“Communication; that’s what kills us, especially as a defense,” Simmons said. “Everybody has to be on the same page, everybody has to talk even defense. We have to communicate with each other.”
QB Nick Fitzgerald said they need to not panic going into the bye week. 

“We just need to come out and focus on ourselves,” Fitzgerald said. “When practicing, we really need to focus on a lot of individual drills, work on some techniques so they know what will get them through game weeks, and get some younger guys some reps.”

MSU’s next game is at home against BYU on October 14. There is not set time for kickoff at this time.

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Penalties, injuries and big plays plague MSU in Auburn