Another win over a top 10 opponent might do it. Mississippi State beat Auburn 38-23 behind another impressive, although not too accurate, performance from Dak Prescott, who has to be the leading candidate for the Heisman trophy, playing on a team that is at the moment better than anyone else in College Football.
By beating Auburn Mississippi State cut down the number of undefeated teams for a third straight week. All their wins this season have been against teams with a 0 on the loss column, but the last three weeks have been incredible: LSU, Texas A&M and now an Auburn team that came into the game with one of the best defenses in the nation, not to mention the number two ranking on the AP Poll. The Bulldogs scored three touchdowns in the first quarter to take a 21-0 lead, and managed to keep Auburn at a safe distance the rest of the way.
This was a game of turnovers, both teams giving up the ball four times. Prescott was intercepted twice and so was Nick Marshall. But the Tigers have never lost the ball so many times under Gus Malzahn, and gave up 21 points off of those turnovers, the most for an Auburn team since allowing 22 points off turnovers against Mississippi State. Mississippi State aren’t a defensive juggernaut, but they forced Auburn into the wrong kind of football for them.
The Tigers were held to 232 rushing yards, 5.4 per carry. They’re now 3-3 under Malzahn when they run for less than 250 yards. The big key to success was keeping them from bursting outside the tackles. Mississippi Stat held them to only 64 such yards, which goes hand in hand with their defensive performance against Auburn last season. The Tigers are averaging 323.1 rushing yards against everyone other than the Bulldogs, who are holding them over the last two seasons to just 176 rushing yards per game.
With the running game not doing as well as planned, Nick Marshall was forced to throw deep. He completed just 17-of-35 passes, attempting 14 passes thrown for 15 yards or more. Auburn are 1-3 when Marshall attempts at least 10 of those each games. They’re 16-0 when Marshall throws less than 10 deep passes a game. Trying to win with his arm simply isn’t the way to go for Auburn, falling behind both Mississippi teams in the SEC West.
Prescott finished with 18-of-34 when throwing the ball for 246 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He outdid Marshall with his yards on the ground as well (121 to 100), not to mention scoring two touchdowns while Josh Robinson helped out with 97 yards and a couple of touchdowns himself. Mississippi State continue their immense success on third downs this season, with Prescott scoring two of his touchdowns on third down situations, and the team converted 8-of-17 on third.
How special is this Mississippi State team? Only five teams in the history of College Football have beaten three top 10 teams week after week. The last time it happened was in 1983 for Auburn, ending up third on the AP Poll that year. Before that we have to go back to almost medieval times, with Georgia Tech in 1959, Army in 1945 and Notre Dame in 1943. They still have current top 10 teams in Alabama and Ole Miss to play this season, both on the road.
With the SEC looking a lot more open than other seasons, all Mississippi State have done so far might mean a lot less in a month or two. After a brutal stretch comes a bye week and then three relatively more comfortable games in Kentucky, Arkansas and against UT Martin. The season and hopes of titles for a team not used to being in the spotlight still goes through road games against Alabama and Ole Miss.