The Auburn Tigers were sucker-punched early in Starkville and found themselves down 21-0 in the first quarter, and could never recover.

Here are five takeaways from the Auburn’s 38-23 loss to Mississippi State:

  • Trust who you are: Auburn never was true to its identity in the loss to the Bulldogs. After head coach Gus Malzahn touted a more balanced offense throughout the offense, he seemed to force it on Saturday afternoon. Nick Marshall attempted 35 passes, and seemed to force throws in the second half. Auburn had success running the football in the first half with true freshman Roc Thomas, who only got three carries over the final three and a half quarters. If Auburn’s going to continue to be successful, the legitimate threat of a run game is key for opening up the passing game for the Tigers.
  • Can’t play to lose: After a punch to the gut early by Dak Prescott and Mississippi State, Auburn played conservatively and as if it were scared to lose to a top 5 team, which lead to its demise late. The Tigers are a veteran, experienced team but the stage looked too big for them on Saturday afternoon. This was the first time, however, under Malzahn that the breaks went against Auburn in a game.
  • Duke Williams continues to make plays: On a day in which Marshall was erratic and had some errant throws, JUCO transfer Duke Williams continues to prove his worth. He made a couple highlight-reel catches to save Marshall. Williams’ catch-radius is impressive; he seemingly catches everything within 10 feet of him. He’s very good at catching with his hands away from his chest and gives Auburn a very reliable second weapon opposite Sammie Coates.
  • Auburn couldn’t capitalize on MSU mistakes: I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a team score 21 straight points to begin a game, only to turn the ball over on its next four possessions. Auburn failed to capitalize on a few of those possessions, missing a chip-shot field goal, then scoring three times to make it 21-13. The Tigers found themselves in the red zone — where it usually gets touchdowns — only to come away with three and costly offensive penalties negated big plays.
  • The season’s not over: This loss isn’t the end of the world. It’s a 15-point loss in a tough road environment to the No. 3 (soon to be No. 1) team in the country. The SEC West is still wide open, but Auburn still faces four ranked teams over its final six games. Auburn’s still a good team, but can’t make mistakes to hurt itself and also can’t stray from its identity.