Posted by Jerry Hinnen
AUBURN WON: The rumors of the Tigers' death have, as it turns out, been greatly exaggerated. After going down 21-14 on an ugly Barrett Trotter interception State's Johnthan Banks gratefully returned for a touchdown, Gus Malzahn's offense ripped off 27 of the game's next 33 points.to open up a 41-27 fourth-quarter lead. But State showed some Auburn-like resilience of their own, scoring one touchdown and driving down to the Auburn 1-yard line with 20 seconds to play. Vick Ballard was stuffed on first down and with no timeouts, Chris Relf was then upended by little-used sophomore safety Ryan Smith inside the 1. Time ran out, and Auburn moved to an incredible 10-0 in their last 10 one-possession games.
WHY AUBURN WON: Because even without Cam Newton and four three-year starters, Malzahn still knows how to put together a run game. With a week to lick their wounds from their Utah State struggles and shake up their offensive line (senior A.J. Greene was returned to the starting lineup), the Tigers rededicated themselves and tore through the Bulldogs' veteran defensive front for 235 rushing yards on just 36 carries--a team average of 6.5 yards per-carry. Sophomore star Michael Dyer picked up 150 of those on 8.3 yards an attempt, including a pivotal 52-yard dash that took the Tigers out of the shadow of their own goalposts late in the third quarter and set up his team's final score.
Thanks to the running game, Auburn was able to open up just enough space for the Tiger passing game (though he threw for just 146 yards, Trotter also threw two long touchdown strikes) and leave State with just too little time to accomplish what would have been a stirring comeback.
Some measure of credit may also be due the Auburn defense, which despite another brutal day in the box score -- 531 total yards given up, 333 of them on the ground, 97 plays faced as State converted 11-of-20 third downs -- rose up and got the two goal-line stops they had to have to keep their nation-best 17-game winning streak intact.
WHAT AUBURN WON: A return to the AP poll, no doubt, and a week after looking like the sort of team that might struggle to make the postseason, a simple "2" in the win column is not close to being something to sneeze at. But the Tigers also served notice that despite the vast personnel losses, the Week 1 embarrassment, and a defense that bends so badly it seems as if it must have already broken long ago, their remarkable knack for making just enough plays to earn victory is every bit as intact as it was in 2010.
Auburn won't win the SEC West this season (not without some rapid, substantial defensive improvement), but with Malzahn's offense still capable of putting up a 40-spot on any given weekend, the Tigers are still plenty dangerous enough to have a large say in who does.
WHAT MISSISSIPPI STATE LOST: This was supposed to be the season the Bulldogs were something more than just "scary" or a "sleeper"; this was supposed to be State's chance to surge past the likes of the green, inexperienced Tigers to cement themselves a legitimate player in the West, their opportunity to surprise one of the consensus top three teams and maybe start to sniff Atlanta. But with the Bulldogs now stuck again behind Auburn in the current West pecking order, those dreams are going to have to be put off at least until they pull one of those LSU-Alabama-Arkansas-type upsets.
More practically speaking, the Bulldogs also saw starting tackle James Carmon go down with a knee injury and stretchered off. With LSU coming to town this Thursday, there won't be much time for him to get better.