Auburn got off to a horrific start, mounted a furious comeback, and ultimately fell short of victory in head coach Cadillac Williams’ first outing leading the Tigers.
To begin the game, Mississippi State put 17 points on the board before Auburn amassed 25 yards of total offense.
Bulldogs’ quarterback Will Rogers was slicing and dicing the Tigers’ defense so easily in the first sixteen minutes of play that at least 50 Mississippi State points seemed like an good bet at the time.
To compound the issues, Auburn’s offense, which has struggled mightily most of the year, looked to be the worst version of itself all season. The Tigers could not muster even a few yards on its opening possessions of the contest.
All of these weaknesses combined with a mix and match coaching staff that had short notice to prepare for the game pointed to a Bulldog blowout.
Auburn did manage to stop the bleeding on defense and only allow one score from Mississippi State over the last 13 minutes of the second quarter while adding two field goals of their own to make it 24-6 at halftime.
It was an incredibly ugly first thirty minutes of action for Auburn on the road in Starkville and Tiger fans could not have been confident it would get any better based on the second half futility of the last 12 or so games.
There is no way to know what exactly was said at halftime or what specific schematic changes were made, but Auburn came out and played its best second half of football in recent memory.
Auburn’s offense, led by quarterback Robby Ashford, still could not consistently block Bulldog defenders or complete passes down the field, but did manage to break several explosive runs that gave the Tigers a chance.
Ashford and junior running back Tank Bigsby combined for three rushing touchdowns, leading Auburn to 27 points in the second half alone.
At the same time the Auburn offense found some rhythm, the Tigers’ defense put a chokehold on the Mississippi State offense for a quarter and a half.
The Tigers defense, led by standout senior pass rusher Derick Hall, forced multiple turnovers, tightened pass coverage, and sacked the Bulldogs’ quarterback four times in the final thirty minutes of regulation.
Both sides of the ball finding their footing at the same time led to an improbable comeback on the road that saw Auburn eventually take a 33-30 lead with just under three minutes left in the fourth quarter.
Unfortunately, Auburn would concede the game tying field goal in regulation that would force overtime in which the Tigers would ultimately fall.
Auburn’s unexpected comeback bid would ultimately fail and the Tigers dropped their fifth consecutive SEC game.
The Tigers are now 3-6 on the season with a 1-5 SEC record. This loss means that Auburn would have to win all of their remaining games to reach bowl eligibility, an unlikely feat.
It is no secret that this Auburn team has deficiencies and weaknesses, many of which remained even after a change at head coach. Auburn was penalized 15 times, the kicking game performance approached a disastrous level, and the Tigers’ coaching staff would likely love to have the opportunity to re-make a handful of decisions regarding 4th down choices and extra points.
Auburn’s game against Mississippi State was often sloppy, disjointed, and quite frankly not very good football. When trailing by nearly twenty points in the first half, it would have been very easy for Auburn to lay down and accept the beatdown that seemed imminent.
But Derick Hall, Colby Wooden, Tank Bigsby, Jarquez Hunter, Robby Ashford and all the other Tigers didn’t do that.
Auburn did not quit because their head coach would not let them.
Auburn University, its football program, and the opportunity to lead it means far too much to Cadillac Williams for that to be an option.
The Tigers’ loss is not a moral victory, and it should not be treated as such. This game counts in the loss column exactly the same as the preceding five in 2022.
However, the effort and enthusiasm exhibited by this group of Auburn Tigers on the road at Mississippi State potentially lays the foundation for something bigger than the result of one game in Starkville.
The 2022 Auburn Tigers won’t be remembered as champions of college football or the SEC, but the amount of effort and toughness that they display over the final three games will determine if these Tigers are the ones who begin to turn this proud program back around.
Zack Shaw is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News and former walk-on for the Auburn Tigers.