STARKVILLE, MS (WSFA) - It was an ugly loss for the No. 8 Auburn Tigers as they fell in their first road game of the season. The Tigers (4-2, 1-2) lost 23-9 in Starkville to Mississippi State (4-2, 1-2).
The Tigers offense never got on track Saturday. And when it looked like it did or was about to, the most unfortunate turn of events happened.
They trailed 13-3 going into the break with their only points coming off a Jeremiah Dinson interception of Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald.
Anders Carlson converted that interception into three points.
Anders Carlson was the highlight reel of scoring for Auburn.
Mississippi State’s highlight reel for scoring existed in the form of a 6-foot-5-inch 230-pound human being known as Nick Fitzgerald. Mississippi State’s quarterback.
It was the Nick Fitzgerald show all night long in ‘Starkvegas.' He, by himself rushed for more yards in the first half (84) than the Auburn offense had in total (79).
He had two touchdowns on the night - both rushing. The first was important. It came at the very end of the first half.
On 4th and goal, Fitzgerald kept the ball on a read and was tackled in what ended up being a close play. The initial call on the field was a touchdown. The play was reviewed, and after a lengthy review, stood as called on the field.
That gave the Bulldogs a 13-3 lead over Auburn going into the half.
Auburn’s defense held Mississippi State to a field goal to open the third quarter, but it was after a lengthy 8-minute and 5-second drive.
The Tigers looked like they’d made an adjustment coming out of the break but sputtered.
After Jarrett Stidham hit Ryan Davis down the sideline to open the Auburn second half, the Tigers were kicking a field goal just five plays later.
Auburn got the ball back after forcing a three-and-out and then the most unfortunate thing struck the Tigers offense.
On a third-down draw, JaTarvious Whitlow shot through the Mississippi State defense, breaking one tackler and sprinted toward the end zone. He stretched out into the end zone and appeared to break the plane of the goal line but also looked like he fumbled it into end zone as well. Officials let the play go on and Mississippi State recovered and the play was ruled a touchback.
The play was reviewed. At this time, the score of the game was 16-6. If the touchback call gets reversed and turned into a touchdown, Auburn’s in business only down 16-13 - assuming the extra point. That’s not what happened.
The call stood as there wasn’t enough evidence to say Whitlow had control of the ball, and Mississippi State took possession.
But still, Auburn’s defense kept the offense around. Fitzgerald was stopped on 4th and 1 and the Auburn offense was back on the field.
Now in the fourth quarter, The Tigers went on a 10-play drive that amounted to another Carlson field goal. The Tigers had moved down inside the Mississippi State 10-yard line but couldn’t punch it in.
The field goal made it 16-9 and Auburn, somehow, was down by only a touchdown.
Fitzgerald tried his best to batter and bruise the Auburn defense next possession out. He picked up 53 yards on the ground, including a 39-yard gain. It was a gain that looked like it was setting up the knockout punch.
State’s drive stalled and Auburn blocked the Bulldogs' field goal try. Auburn still had a shot.
With that shot, the offense moved 13 yards and turned the ball over on downs. It was a drive that was less than ideal. Less than ideal, because Fitzgerald went for the kill shot next time out.
As he finished with 195 rushing yards, Fitzgerald saw it fit to plant the dagger into the chest of the Tigers using his most lethal weapon. His feet.
A drive that went 70 yards, included two third downs. The first was converted by Fitzgerald - the baby dagger - with 4:21 to play. The second was the big dagger.
On 3rd and 1, with Auburn opting to let the clock run instead of calling its second timeout, Fitzgerald took the snap in the shotgun. He read the defense and raced around the left side, cut back and was off for 21 yards and in for the score. The cowbells were clangin'.
The Bulldogs were 0-2 in conference play and Fitzgerald made sure that 0-2 didn’t turn into 0-3. The second touchdown of the night for either team made it 23-9 in favor of Mississippi State.
That’s how the game was won.
Mississippi State didn’t eclipse 70 passing yards (69) for the night, but dominated time of possession. The Bulldogs had the ball for 41:53 of game time to Auburn’s 18:07.
The Tigers look to regroup back in Jordan-Hare Stadium next Saturday. The Tigers welcome in the Tennessee Volunteers. This will be the first meeting between the two since 2013. The two will clash at 11 a.m.