STARKVILLE, Miss., - Mississippi State had plenty of opportunities Thursday night in front of a national television audience.
But the Bulldogs were unable to overcome 21st ranked Auburn as the Tigers prevailed 17-14 in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams.
"The opportunity was there for us to win and we didn't grab it," said MSU head coach Dan Mullen.
Auburn (2-0, 1-0) scored 10 of their 14 points off Bulldog turnovers and finished the night with 348 yards. The Tigers tallied 190 yards on the ground and added another 158 yards through the air.
"One of the things we didn't want to do is give up the big play," Mullen said. "We did that in the first half. Both their touchdown passes were on third down. We gave up the big play in situations where we shouldn't give it up. I thought in the second half we did a better job of containing them - bending not breaking. We were keeping them in front of us and forcing them to drive down the field and not giving up the big play. In the end they made more big plays than we did. When they needed to make a play they would make the play and when we needed to make a play we didn't."
Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton totaled 206 yards of offense and two touchdowns. The junior completed 11-of-19 passing for 136 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He also led the Tigers with 70 yards on 18 carries.
"He's definitely fast and a good quarterback," said MSU linebacker Chris White. "You have to worry about him running the ball and throwing the ball as well. He is definitely a dual-threat quarterback."
Terrell Zachery caught four passes for 32 yards while Emory Blake hauled in a pair of passes for 39 yards and a score.
Auburn wasted little time getting on the scoreboard as Newton orchestrated a eight-play touchdown drive on the opening possession. Newton completed three passes on the drive and converted a 4th-and-1 with his feet. The Tigers reached the end zone when Newton hooked up with Blake up the left sideline for a 39-yard score. Wes Byrum kicked the point after giving Auburn an early 7-0 lead.
Mississippi State caught a break late in the first quarter. After taking over at midfield, the Bulldogs moved 12-yards backwards in three plays and were forced to punt. Auburn's Quindarius Carr muffed the punt at the 20-yard line and recovered by Patrick Hanrahan.
MSU took advantage of the newfound momentum and found the end zone three plays later. Chris Relf tried to plow in from the (2)-yard line but fumbled into the end zone. Luckily the Bulldogs guard Gabe Jackson alertly fell on the ball giving the home team their first score. Sean Brauchle extra point tied things up with 2:30 left in the opening quarter.
Auburn took advantage of a Bulldog turnover to begin the second quarter. Nick Fairley intercepted a Tyler Russell pass at midfield and were quickly in the end zone eight plays later.
Newton found Darvin Adams in the end zone from 12-yards out. Byrum added the point after putting the Tigers up 14-7.
Another State turnover before the half also turned out to be costly. Relf had trouble with an exchange with J.C. Brignone and fumbled which was recovered by Fairley at midfield.
The Bulldogs were able to keep Auburn out of the end zone but Byrum converted a 34-yard field goal to put his team up by 10 heading into the half.
But Mississippi State came out of the locker room clicking on all cylinders on the opening drive of the third quarter. The Bulldogs drove 63 yards in 12 plays capped off when Vick Ballard plowed in from a yard out. Brauchle's extra point pulled MSU to within a field goal.
The Bulldogs gambled with an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff and Brauchle recovered his own kick. But State was unable to capitalize and went three and out.
The Mississippi State offense continued to sputter for the remainder of the third quarter and most of the fourth. But the defense held the Tigers in check until their final drive.
Auburn drove down to the MSU 20-yard line and brought on Byrum to attempt a 37-yard field goal. But the kick was blocked by Fletcher Cox giving the Bulldogs one final chance to tie or go ahead with just over two minutes to play.
State moved the ball 39 yards in 10 plays but ended with four consecutive incompletions and turned the ball over on downs at the AU 41-yard line with 22-seconds remaining.
The Bulldogs (1-1, 0-1) ended the night with 246 yards of offense with 129 yards passing and 117 yards on the ground.
Relf completed 12-of-25 passing for 110 yards and also added 26 yards on 14 carries.
Chad Bumphis led Mississippi State in both rushing and receiving carrying three times for 27 yards and grabbing five passes for 34 yards.
Eltoro Freeman paced the Tigers defense with nine tackles including one for loss. Zac Etheridge, Aairon Savage and Josh Bynes each finished with six stops.
White led MSU with 11 tackles with one being behind the line of scrimmage. K.J. Wright added 10 tackles while Nickoe Whitley chipped in six stops along with an interception.
"We know we can play so much better than we did," said MSU defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. "I think that will ultimately be the hardest part for the kids. There is no moral victories and there are no pats on the back. The defense let the team down because we gave up more points than our offense could score and we had opportunities. One drive when they scored a touchdown the ball was on the ground twice and they got it back and we had an interception for a touchdown that we batted into the ground. Big time players make big time plays in big time games and we've got to get the confidence to make those plays in these types of environments."
The Bulldogs will attempt to get back on track next Saturday traveling to LSU for their first road test.
"I guarantee the people in Baton Rogue aren't going to feel sorry for us," Mullen said. "If you are going to play the toughest schedule in the country you'd better learn to deal with adversity and find a way to improve as a football team from week to week. Obviously every phase of the program can make a little improvement for next week's game."