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Kick that Bulldog!


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A comparison of first year coaches in the Auburn Mississippi State series.



     War Eagle, everybody! Auburn wrapping up their final preparations for the Mississippi State Bulldogs, who visit Jordan Hare Stadium this Saturday night. Much is made of the Auburn-Georgia rivalry, and it has been dubbed the "oldest football rivalry in the south." Auburn has a history with the Mississippi State Bulldogs, that is almost as old. Saturday's matchup will be the 64th consecutive year the two teams have played. Auburn won the first matchup in 1905, played in Columbus, Mississippi, by the score of 18-0. Auburn would win ten games over State, before the Bulldogs managed a 7-6 win in Birmingham, in 1927. Auburn went 0-7-2 that year, under Dave Morey. As to the all time record, Auburn leads with 57 wins, 23 losses, and 2 ties; a winning percentage against Mississippi State of 70.7 percent.


     My question this week, is "how do first-time head coaches fare, in this matchup?" The first rookie Auburn man to take on the Bulldogs was George Bohler, in 1928. Bohler's 1-8 Tigers were dumped 13-0 in Birmingham, against Mississippi State. Chette Wynne faced the Bulldogs in his first year, 1930, and lost 7-6 in Birmingham. 15 years later, Carl Voyles lost a heartbreaker in Birmingham to the Bulldogs, 26-21. Earl Brown's 1-8-1 squad in 1948 lost another Birmingham matchup, 20-0. Shug Jordan's Tigers didn't play Mississippi State in 1951, Shug's first year, so it would not be until 1976 that a rookie Auburn head coach would defeat the Bulldogs, and it took a forfeit to do it.


     In 1976, Doug Barfield's first team was in the middle of a late-season melt-down, as injuries mounted. Following a close loss to Florida in Gainesville, the Tigers were beaten by State 28-19, in Jackson Mississippi. Walter Packer had a career day running the ball, and Auburn had no answer for him. Bob Tyler's team would go 9-2, and finish 20th in the nation. MSU would later be forced to forfeit games from the 1975, 1976, and 1977 seasons, for using an ineligible player.


     Like every first year Auburn coach before him, Pat Dye's first unit in 1981 could not beat the Bulldogs on the field, despite playing the game in Auburn. The Tigers led late, 17-14, but could not hold off John Bond and the Bulldogs. Emory Bellard's team knocked off Auburn 21-17, to go to 6-1 on the season.


     The first Auburn coach to beat Mississippi State in his first season, was Terry Bowden, in 1993. The Tigers did everything they could to lose that game, in the first quarter, turning the ball over in Auburn territory three times. The Bulldogs managed only two field goals, and threw an interception at the goal line. In the second quarter, Stan White got hot, and hit touchdown passes of 57 yards to Frank Sanders, 35 yards to Stephen Davis, and 7 yards to Tony Richardson. Auburn cruised to a 31-17 win.


     Tommy Tuberville seemed to have the Bulldogs right where he wanted them, in his first season, in 1999. Auburn broke out of a scoreless defensive struggle in the second quarter, when Ronney Daniels caught a short slant pass from Jeff Klein, ran out of his shoe, and ran away from the Bulldog D for a 64 yard touchdown. Auburn pushed the lead out to 16-0 in the 3rd quarter, and took a 16-3 lead into the 4th quarter. Matt Wyatt hit a TD pass with 2:28 left, to cut the Auburn lead to 16-10. Auburn took an intentional safety with 50 seconds left, and kicked a line drive free kick to the Bulldogs' Pig Prather, who took the return 47 yards into Auburn territory. Wyatt immediately hit Terrell Grindle over the middle, for 36 yards to the Auburn 11. On 3rd and 10, with only 19 seconds left, Wyatt hit Matt Butler for the score, just past the outstretched hand of safety Adlai Trone. MSU completed an improbable comeback, and beat Auburn 18-16.


     Officially, Auburn is 2-6 against Mississippi State when Auburn has a new head coach, and the only coach that has won against the Bulldogs in his first season, on the field, is Terry Bowden. That seems to indicate a tall task for Gene Chizik, doesn't it? Mississippi State has a new coach, too, in Dan Mullen. How do the Bulldogs fare against Auburn, with new coaches?


     E. C. Hayes lost to Auburn in 1914 in Birmingham, 19-0. Sid Robinson's only loss of the 1917 season was in Birmingham, against Auburn, 13-6. John W. Hancock beat Auburn 7-6 in Birmingham, in 1927. In 1930 Chris Cagle pulled the same feat, winning 7-6 in Birmingham. In 1938, Emerson W. "Spike" Nelson took on Auburn in Montgomery, and lost, 20-6. The following year, Allyn McKeen's squad lost to Auburn in Birmingham, 7-0. In 1949, Arthur "Slick" Morton became the first Bulldog coach to lose in Auburn, falling 25-6. Murry Warmath's 1952 squad scored more points on Auburn than any MSU team in history, wining 49-34. In 1956, Wade Walker's team lost at Auburn, 27-20. Paul J. Davis' 1962 squad lost in Auburn, 9-3. In 1967, in Auburn, Charley Shira took a 36-0 beating. In 1973, Bob Tyler's bunch lost in Auburn, 31-17. Emory Bellard's 1979 squad lost in Auburn, 14-3. In 1986, Rocky Felker's first team lost to Auburn in Starkville, 35-6. Jackie Sherrill ruined Auburn's homecoming in 1991, with a late TD to win, 24-17. Lastly, Sylvester Croom's 2004 squad was beaten in Starkville, 43-14.


     First time Mississippi State coaches are collectively 4-12 in their first seasons, against Auburn. It appears that State has a slight edge in these matchups. Of course, the only definitive conclusion is that both teams have struggled with new men at the helm. The experts have picked Auburn and Mississippi State to battle for the cellar of the SEC West, this season.


     I think Mississippi State has more to overcome, this season, than Auburn does. State returns only 4 starters on defense, and has a quarterback controversy on offense. The game is in Auburn, and the Tigers played a quality opponent, while MSU was beating up on the SWAC. Dan Mullen's offenses haven't had great success against Auburn, in the past. His two Florida units only managed 17 points each, with Tim Tebow on the roster. I would not enjoy the prospect of facing the Malzhan offense, with 3 new starters in the secondary, were I a Bulldog! On the other hand, Auburn may be primed for a let down, after nearly everything went right in week one. Still, I'll stand by my spring prediction: Auburn wins this one, 20-9.