Auburn, MSU combine for SEC’s first 3-2 finish

Published 7:54 pm Sunday, September 14, 2008

AUBURN – Airtight defense with no long balls will lead to a lot of games like this, 3-2 decisions that come down to the very last …

Play from scrimmage?

A list of college football games decided by a 3-2 score, compiled by the Southeastern Conference through schools and other leagues:

Auburn 3, Mississippi State 2 — Sep. 13, 2008 at Starkville, Miss.

Clemson 3, Duke 2 — Oct. 16, 1965 at Durham, N.C.

TCU 3, Texas 2 — Nov. 12, 1960 in Fort Worth

TCU 3, LSU 2 — Jan. 1, 1936 at New Orleans, La. (Sugar Bowl)

Iowa State 3, Kansas State 2 — Nov. 20, 1926 at Manhattan, Kan.

Iowa State 3, Kansas State 2 — Nov. 9, 1929 at Manhattan, Kan.

VMI 3, Kentucky 2 — Nov. 2, 1912 at Lexington, Ky.

No. 10 Auburn eked out a 3-2 win over Mississippi State — in football, not baseball — Saturday night that was a thing of beauty for lovers of stingy defense like Tommy Tuberville, and offensive to connoisseurs of, well, offense.

It was the first 3-2 game in a Southeastern Conference football matchup, league spokesman Charles Bloom said Sunday. It’s a rarity in any league. Preliminary research from other schools and leagues came up with only six other 3-2 games, the latest a Clemson win over Duke on Oct. 16, 1965, Bloom said.

The others included two Iowa State wins over Kansas State in the 1920s, TCU over LSU in 1936 and Texas in 1960 and VMI over Kentucky in 1912.

Not exactly an offensive extravaganza to set up Auburn’s showdown with No. 6 LSU.

Even a former defensive coordinator like Tuberville would have liked a little more scoring.

“I am an old defensive coach so I was liking it a little bit but I wish we had scored a few more points,” the Auburn coach said. “We just wasted a few opportunities. That was a true defensive game.”

Wasted opportunities. Missed field goals. Woeful third-down conversions: 0-for-14 for Mississippi State; 3-for-16 for Auburn.

Errant passes. Fumbles. The list of offensive problems is endless, but so is a chart of big defensive plays.

The biggest came on Auburn cornerback Walt McFadden’s one-handed, sideline-straddling interception late in the fourth quarter. Auburn’s Ben Tate and Tristan Davis had both coughed up fumbles near midfield to keep the Bulldogs’ hopes alive for, say, a 5-3 win.

Auburn’s normally reliable kicker Wes Byrum missed from 42 and 22 yards while hitting a 35-yarder midway through the second quarter that gave the Tigers, as it turns out, an insurmountable lead.

“I never really felt threatened last night of losing that ball game once we got ahead 3-0,” Tuberville said Sunday.

Mississippi State’s Adam Carlson missed a 38-yarder early in the third quarter.

Boring? Ugly? Not to the defenders.

“We were out there just flying around,” Auburn cornerback Jerraud Powers said. “I know the fans didn’t like that type of performance, but Mississippi State’s defense thinks the same, too.”

Fans and poll voters alike don’t care for them. The Tigers dropped a spot in the rankings.

It was the first time Auburn had won while scoring only three points since a 3-0 win over Miami in 1974. Tuberville was still a defensive back for Southern Arkansas at the time.

The Bulldogs managed just 116 total yards and six first downs and failed on all three fourth-down attempts. The Tigers had a more respectable 315 yards and 14 first downs but lost three fumbles.

Together they produced a baseball score — almost. The Tigers and Bulldogs were a little more potent at the plate than that last season, combining for 14, seven and 15 runs in three meetings.

An offense found itself in the end zone only once in the game — and it was the wrong one. Auburn center Ryan Pugh was flagged for holding in his own end zone to give the Bulldogs a safety and their only points.

“You could not ask for more out of the defense, you really couldn’t,” Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom said. “When they had them back up, they kept them in the hole. They forced turnovers and they scored our only two points.”

The punters were pretty busy, combining to boot 18 kicks. Blake McAdams’ 10 punts included a 52-yarder that set up the fourth-quarter safety for the Bulldogs.

Both teams had hobbled running backs. Mississippi State’s Anthony Dixon sustained a groin pull two days before the game and was held to 5 yards on seven carries.

Auburn’s Brad Lester went down with a sprained neck in the third quarter after gaining 51 yards.

Tuberville said an MRI on Lester done Sunday showed no damage, but Auburn will have a neurosurgeon check Lester out in Birmingham. The coach wasn’t sure when Lester would return to practice.

Tate’s 92 yards included a 39-yarder to convert a late third-and-8 play and allow the Tigers to run the clock out.

Bulldogs quarterback Wesley Carroll was 10-of-25 for 78 yards, including the late pick by McFadden.

“The bottom line is we just didn’t make the play,” Croom said. “We didn’t make the throw and when we did make the throw we didn’t make the catch. Auburn is very tough defensively and particularly up front.”

Mississippi State defensive lineman Jessie Bowman had eight tackles, including 3.5 for a loss and forced a fumble.

Auburn, meanwhile, had nine tackles for loss and at times seemed already in the backfield by the time Mississippi State’s backs got the ball.

“It is all about defense when you go on the road,” Tuberville said. “We gave up zero first downs on 14 (third-down) chances and only 116 yards total offense. You can win a lot of games that way.”