MSU thought they had an SEC road win in hand. They converted a fourth and one from inside their own territory with less than four minutes remaining. A couple of more first downs and they would seal it up. Instead, they would end up punting it and Auburn would drive 88 yards in two minutes to knock off the Bulldogs, 24-20.
The loss was both heartbreaking and frustrating for State fans who have seen this movie before. They've felt like there have been wins for the taking that MSU just hasn't gotten. Dan Mullen and the players continue to say they're just not finishing.
Every week we will review what I said MSU had to do to win. On Saturday's before the game I will drop the three keys to victory. This week I said the Bulldogs had to utilize the passing game, pressure Nick Marshall and score early.
Utilize the Passing Game: Rumors were rampant leading up to the game that Dak Prescott would be the starting quarterback for the Bulldogs for the second consecutive week. Tyler Russell had practiced all week and was running through pregame warm-ups. He was even announced over the speakers as the starting quarterback. But right before the game, a change was made and Russell wasn't medically cleared for contact and Prescott got the call.
Prescott was virtually unstoppable for the most part of the game and the defense struggled to adjust to the read option he ran. With that came the ability to use the middle of the field in the passing game so I think State took advantage of that well. Prescott threw for career highs as he went 15-28 for 213 yards and no interceptions or a touchdown. He showed that he can be a threat to the air as well as on the ground.
Pressure Marshall : I thought MSU pressured him well for the most part of the game. The Bulldogs hit him in the backfield several times and forced some bad throws that sometimes turned into positive plays for Auburn out of sheer luck. State had a season-high three sacks on Marshall and forced two interceptions on bad throws. The problem is that Marshall beat the Bulldogs through the air when he got the ball out early. On the final possession of the game, Marshall was 6-8 for 66 yards and a touchdown. He was 7-10 in the second half prior to that drive. The Bulldog defense played right into his hands and they were picked apart and ultimately it cost them the game. Overall, the pressure was good, but since it eventually meant they lost it was a fail.
Score Early: Well it played right into Auburn's hands again this year after two years ago the Tigers scored early and the Bulldogs had to make a comeback. This game, the score was different but still the same. Auburn drove right down the field and got an early field goal. The Bulldogs did the same but hooked a routine 35 yarder from Devon Bell. Auburn made them pay with a quick drive into the endzone on the next possession and a two-point conversion gave them the 11-0 lead.
Give the Bulldogs credit for immediately answering with a two-play drive to get on the board but they failed their two-point conversion. In the end, those four points left off the board from special teams were the difference in the score. The game might have gone differently and there were other plays to make in the game but those were huge misses. Auburn won the battle early on the first punches.
I missed on my prediction for the first time this season but wasn't off by much. I chose MSU to win the game 27-23. MSU now prepares for Troy who will be in Starkville Saturday for a 6 p.m. ball game broadcast on FSN.