There were shades of Super Bowl 51 in Jordan-Hare on Saturday, as early in the first half Auburn was up 28-3 over Mississippi State midway through the second quarter.
Quarterback Bo Nix hit receiver Kobe Hudson in the end zone, with the sophomore receiver making an athletic, one-handed grab to put the Tigers up by 25 with 6:10 left before halftime.
Anyone familiar with Super Bowl 51 and the Atlanta Falcons knows how that game ended, and the Tigers shared a similar fate in their 43-34 loss to the Bulldogs.
“No one’s happy in the locker room,” Auburn coach Bryan Harsin said. “We’re all disappointed … I thought we started fast but didn’t finish.”
Started fast they did, as the offense was able to score touchdowns on its first four drives of the game. In the first Nix was 15-of-19 for 205 yards and two touchdowns. The junior quarterback was throwing to receivers all over the field.
“I did like the start, thought there were some good things in there,” Harsin said. “But, going to half 28-10, you come out and they had a little momentum going into half, and we needed to continue what we did (in the first half).”
The Bulldogs scored a touchdown with less than two minutes left before halftime, cutting the Auburn lead down to 18 at the break. It was all Mississippi State in the third quarter, with quarterback Will Rogers completing 17-of-18 passes for 198 yards and two touchdowns in the third quarter alone. The momentum had made its full switch over to the sideline of Mississippi State.
“They were able to capitalize on that type of performance from their quarterback,” Harsin said. “He kept those guys on the field, that’s what they do, they throw the ball. We have to be able to defend that.”
Just a minute-and-a-half into the fourth quarter, Mississippi State took a one-point lead on a six-yard reception by Makai Polk and never looked back. The Tigers had officially blown a 28-3 lead, and would go on to allow 40 unanswered points to the Bulldogs.
“That one hurt,” EDGE Derick Hall said. “I shed a few tears walking in (to the locker room).”
The third quarter would prove costly, as the Tiger defense had given up 13 points, 11 first downs and 199 yards of offense in the quarter alone. The Tigers had gotten off to their big lead and decided to take their foot off the gas.
“Obviously, I’m feeling it right now,” Hall said. “... Our motto is ‘Finish.” We just didn’t get that done today.”
Down by eight and in a late attempt at creating momentum, the special teams unit dialed up a fake punt on fourth-and-ten inside Auburn territory. Oscar Chapman ran up and attempted a jump pass, but it was batted down and the Bulldogs drove down to score again.
“The fake punt, we’re trying to create some momentum,” Harsin said. “We did have the look … we felt like to win this game we were going to need some momentum.”
The Tigers had a chance to get back in the game in the fourth, but were unable to move the ball. Tank Bigsby added a late rushing touchdown to lessen the blow, but the Tigers suffered a nine-point loss in a game where they had been up by 25.
“I’m not quite sure what happened there,” said Nix on the offensive performance in the second half. “That’s on us for, I guess, relaxing. We didn’t have the intensity that we needed.”
The 25-point comeback was the largest comeback win in Mississippi State program history, and an even bigger blown lead than Auburn’s 1996 loss to Georgia – where the Bulldogs came back to win after being down by 21 in the fourth quarter.