September 15, 2013 1:39:14 AM
AUBURN, Ala. -- The game plan for Auburn coach Gus Malzahn and the Tigers passing game was clear from the opening possession -- pick on No. 9 in white.
Mississippi State junior defensive back Justin Cox was the target of most of the early damage for Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall in the Tigers 24-20 victory Saturday. Cox, who originally came to MSU as a cornerback recruit, was substituting in at safety to replace the depth lost via the season-ending injury to junior Jay Hughes.
Auburn took advantage of the former East Mississippi Community College transfer on its first touchdown of the night with a broken passing play. Marshall fumbled the snap but regathered the football in time to notice Cox had slipped on the play. During Quan Bray's 76-yard scamper to the end zone, Cox would fall down twice on the play. He slipped while the pass was in the air but he also fell down on the tackle attempt allowing for Marshall's longest career pass.
Cox responded in the second half with a key open field tackle on Auburn tailback Tre' Mason in the second half to kill a Tigers drive with MSU up 20-17 at the time.
However, it was the safeties that were attacked on the perimeter for Auburn's game-winning 88-yard drive that concluded with Marshall's 11-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver C.J. Uzomah with 10 seconds left.
n Johnson and Morrow emerge as consistent pass catchers for Mississippi State: 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.
Throughout the game, Prescott hit six different receivers in his first Southeastern Conference start but as MSU tried to keep the clock moving in the second half, the Bulldogs attempted just 11 passes and completed six.
"We just didn't finish out the drives but we were moving the ball," Morrow said.
n Devon Bell still struggling from mid-range field goals: 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.
2. Howland likes MSU's non-conference schedule COLLEGE SPORTS
3. Walters column: Prep football season coming closer LOCAL COLUMNS