September 15, 2013 12:42:49 AM
AUBURN, Ala. - What did we learn?
MSU didn't finish.
It's a word Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen used after his team lost two weeks ago in Houston to then-No. 13 Oklahoma State. He repeated the same word Saturday night after the Bulldogs' 24-20 loss at Auburn.
"We had the opportunity to finish the game on offense, opportunities to win the coach on defense and we simply didn't do it," Mullen said. "That's coaching. That's on me and all of our assistant coaches to make our kids prepared to finish a game. We did not do that."
For 59 minutes and 50 seconds, Mullen and the entire MSU sideline had thought they'd put themselves in a position to win. Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall and wide receiver C.J. Uzomah had other ideas. When Uzomah got his right foot down for a 10-yard touchdown strike with 10 seconds remaining in the game, Auburn completed a comeback victory in front of 85,817 fans for the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams. In a game that lasted over three hours, the final two minutes and specifically the final Auburn play ending with 10 seconds left epitomized Mullen's frustration could be summarized in two words: Auburn finished.
Or four words: Mississippi State didn't finish.
"I guarantee everybody who played in that game can pick out one moment that could've done something that could've changed the outcome of the game," Mullen said.
For the 13th time in 14 years, MSU has lost a conference opener and the Bulldogs haven't won the SEC opener on the road since 1996. Mullen walks away from Auburn Saturday night still without a win against Malzahn on the other side going back to their days as assistant coaches in the SEC.
- Mullen said after the loss, his fourth to Auburn in five years since taking the MSU job in 2009, he was stressing to his offense in the fourth quarter they needed one more touchdown. He told his team they wouldn't be able to win the game by the 17-14 score at the time. They needed to finish and didn't.
"Maybe they work harder than we do in practice and maybe it's supposed to happen that way," MSU junior wide receiver Jameon Lewis said. "They just found a way to make the plays at the end. We didn't finish."
Under Mullen, MSU walked into Jordan-Hare Stadium Saturday with a 29-0 record when leading after three quarters of play. They had finished 29 in a row. Thanks to a 88-yard drive in the final minute and 46 seconds of the game, that record is no longer perfect. In the 30th attempt with a fourth quarter lead, MSU didn't finish the final quarter.
In the final 30 minutes, MSU failed to pick up a single third down in seven attempts and gave Auburn numerous chances to steal the game. Time and time again, MSU gave Auburn a chance to finish the game. Eventually the home team took full advantage.
Mississippi State coaches said all week if Tyler Russell was medically cleared to play, he'd play. They didn't however, say anything about starting. After being announced by the public announcer as starting and worked out with the first team offense in pre-game warmups, Tyler Russell was suddenly benched in favor of sophomore Dak Prescott. With five minutes left on the pre-game clock, MSU officially announced on Twitter Prescott would be making his second career start in as many weeks and first against a Southeastern Conference opponent. According to MSU officials knowledge in pre-game, Russell was medically cleared to play in the game after sustaining a concussion in the season-opening loss to then-No. 13 Oklahoma State in Houston. However, MSU coach Dan Mullen said after the 24-20 loss at Auburn Saturday that Russell did not play because "the fact that Tyler was not cleared to play medically, for contact".
Prescott said he was told before the game started that he would be the starting quarterback and gave the impression that it was the decision all along despite reports in pre-game to the contrary. When asked what Russell was doing out on the field for pre-game warmups with his pads on, Prescott said he didn't know.
"You tell me," Prescott said in response to Russell warming up.
Russell was not made available to the media as per team media policy that injured players are off limits to interviews.
Auburn's defensive adjustment that included pressure from its linebackers and safeties up the middle caused MSU to be 0 for 7 on third down conversions and eventually lose momentum in the game thanks to its inability to finish drives.
MSU sophomore kicker Devon Bell continues to struggle on field goals from 30-39 yards out. It would be the only kick attempt for Bell throughout the evening. The sophomore kicker from Vicksburg, who was recruited for his strong leg out of Harrison Central High School, missed a 35-yard field goal in the first quarter. The failed conversion is the second in two games for Bell and he is now 6 of 12 in his career on field goals from 30-39 yards. In his MSU career, Bell is 6 of 8 total on every other kick from 20-50 yards.
The names Robert Johnson and Joe Morrow hadn't been heard from much from the public address announcer this season.
The junior wide receiving duo had a combined four catches in the first two games of the 2013 season and Saturday the pair combined for eight catches for 124 yards to lead the Bulldogs receiving corps. Prescott was able to find his favorite pass catching combinations mostly over the middle exploiting Auburn's lack of size at cornerback and safety.
"They were working hard in practice but they really found holes in the middle of Auburn's zone defense and they were able to make some big plays," MSU wide receiver Joe Morrow said.
Johnson exceeded his career high total of four catches Saturday with six against the Tigers and went past his career yardage total with a 84-yard output Saturday. Coming into the 2013 SEC opener, Morrow had six career catches but was able to find room to get open for four catches for 40 yards.
"I could honestly care less if I catch any passes if the offense is moving the ball," Morrow said.
What we heard?
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen:
"It was a very disappointing loss for us. I give Auburn credit, their kids made plays to win the game. We did not. We did not make the plays, we did not make the calls as coaches to get our kids in the right situations to call the plays and to make our kids win the game. We had plenty of opportunities. I thought our guys played hard. We did some really good things but we needed to make a play and we did not when we had the ball. A couple times in the fourth quarter we had opportunities to score and we knew we needed one more touchdown all through the fourth quarter. We kept saying that. We had some good drives, some good opportunities, some penalties, some mistakes and some other things that put us behind. We just did not make the plays we needed to win."
On Dak Prescott:
"We will watch it on film and see how he did. He made some good reads, made some good throws. He missed some good reads and missed some good throws."
On why Prescott started over Russell:
"The fact that Tyler is not medically cleared to play."
"We did not finish. I mean it is a pretty simple deal. We had the opportunity to finish on offense and did not do it. We had the opportunity to finish on defense and did not do it. That is coaching. That is on me. That is on all our assistant coaches, on our defensive staff and on our offensive staff to make sure we have kids in a situation prepared to go finish a game and we did not."
On their defense's lack of pressure on the last drive...
"They have a quarterback that is very dynamic at running, so you have to be careful with what you do with him."
On Auburn's defense in the second half...
"I thought they pressured a lot more than they ever have before, but we made some big plays when they pressured. We just did not finish and make the plays that we needed to finish."
On neutralizing Auburn's running game...
"Obviously, the number one thing you want to do is stop the run. I think we did a pretty good job of stopping the run. I think we did a pretty good job of stopping the pass too. We just did not tackle in the open field. They just basically threw quick screens all night long. Open field tackling has been a strength of ours. Tonight, I bet we are going to have a bunch of missed tackles when we finalize and grade the film. That was going to be a key component at stopping them. Number one was stopping the running game. Number two was open field tackling and we got fifty percent of it done."
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn:
"First of all I'd like to say how proud I am of our team. We talked before the game that it could come down to the end. A lot of these games against Mississippi State has. Come down to the end I said 'guys we need to find a way to win' and I'm very proud of the way they did that. Our offense sputtered at times in the second half but they went 88 yards with 1:56 on the clock, found a way to get in the end zone. Very proud of our defense, had some big stops there in the second half. Overall it's just a great win and the crowd was awesome. The crowd helped us just win that game especially in the fourth quarter and it was really fun to be a part of it."
On Nick Marshall:
"He looked fairly natural there. I mean he was making all the reads he was making good balls. I don't know if he threw a bad ball on that drive and he led us down the field and that was huge."
More on Marshall:
"I tell you what it sure worked out. I'm real proud of the way he responded. You know he didn't put the ball in jeopardy at the end, especially when we got in field goal range and we had a chance to at least tie the game he protected the football, he managed the clock well. I thought our receivers did a good job and the double move down there at the end it was something that they worked on a lot and it was a big throw and big catch."
On final drive:
"You just try to think about scenarios in games and the what ifs and if we do this and hit this a few times this may be there. That's one of those thing that we felt like we had a chance to do. Just didn't know it was going to be with 11 seconds left."
On Marcus Davis:
"Marcus is a guy that he's a freshman, but he's not playing like a freshman. He's really stepped up and you'll see him on the field more."
On the team:
"We have to get more consistent. You know we're playing with a quarterback who has been on campus for six or seven weeks and he's going to get better each time out. That's what we talked about, I don't want to sound like coach speak before the season, but our goal is to improve each practice and each game. I felt like we improved, we've got to get more consistent. You know we weren't able to run the football as well as I'd like there's no doubt about that, but give them credit, they're a good team. We beat a good team tonight.
MSU linebacker Benardrick McKinney
"We just have to finish. The defense played hard the whole game. We just didn't finish. That is it."
On tonight's game:
"Our defensive plan every game is to stop the run. I knew our defensive backs would be able to shut down the pass, so I knew if we stopped the run, we would help the defense."
On taking away Auburn's run game:
"We talked on the sideline and reminded each other to go out there and have fun. We love to fly around the ball and have fun."
MSU sophomore quarterback Dak Prescott
"I found out right before the game (I was starting). I kind of felt it all week, but it was right before the game when I found out."
On how he feels he performed:
"I did alright. You never feel good or satisfied with a loss. I have to go in the film room to see what we did wrong, fix some things and get ready for next week."
On how he feels he performed...
"It is just the balance. When you can run, you open up the pass. It is just something that we are trying to do and is being balanced."
Troy Trojans (2-1)
After winning its first two games, Troy lost at Arkansas State Thursday 41-34 to open up Sun Belt Conference play. Trojans quarterback Corey Robinson is averaging 290 yards through the air and lit up the MSU defense last year in a close loss. This will be another test for Geoff Collins' new defense to see if they've improved from 2012 in stopping a version of the spread-option offense. Mullen is 17-4 against non-conference opponents and those four losses are against Georgia Tech (2009), Houston (2009), Northwestern (2013 Gator Bowl) and Oklahoma State.
It'll be another week of debate as to whether Russell or Prescott should be the starting quarterback and if MSU can rebound after another deflating loss and 1-2 start to the 2013 season.
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