- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 26, 2017

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) - The Auburn Tigers put it all together for one dominant performance against a struggling Southeastern Conference team.

Now, the 13th-ranked Tigers are trying to build on that 51-14 win at Missouri when the offense finally exploded and the defense played pretty much like it had all season. The Tigers (3-1, 1-0 SEC) get to see if that was a turning point or just taking advantage of a mismatch Saturday when No. 24 Mississippi State (3-1, 1-1) visits.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn thinks the confidence boost “has to” carry over.

“My message to our team and to our coaches is, you look in our league, there’s a lot of teams that’ll be up high for one week or two weeks and then have a setback,” Malzahn said on Tuesday. “The teams that have a chance to win championships in this league are the teams that can figure out a way to get a little bit better each week.

“Now, that’s a hard challenge in this league. But that’s the challenge that I’ve put on our coaches and our players, find a way as a team to improve, even if it’s just a little bit, each week. And if we can do that, then we have a chance.”

The good news for Auburn is that Malzahn said there’s “a high likelihood” that tailback Kamryn Pettway will return after missing the Missouri game with plantar fasciitis. Pettway practiced on Sunday, Malzahn said.

It’s a potentially big boost for an offense that has been without either Pettway or Kerryon Johnson in each of the first four games.

The offense had produced just 117 yards against No. 2 Clemson and committed five turnovers in an embarrassingly close win over FCS Mercer.

The Missouri game gave the Tigers something more to celebrate. Auburn rushed for 263 yards, with Johnson scoring five touchdowns. Jarrett Stidham was an efficient 16-of-21 passing for 219 yards.

It was definitely a pick-me-up, particularly for the offensive players.

“The locker room was great after the win, and it’s probably the best it’s been all year,” Johnson said. “The bus ride back was shorter, practice on Sunday was easier. Everybody’s just in a better mood. So I think with that leading into this stretch we’re about to go into was a key moment.”

There were other positives from the game. It also afforded Auburn a chance to get newly promoted backup quarterback Malik Willis his first college action. The freshman took over the No. 2 spot after Sean White’s dismissal following a suspension and public intoxication arrest.

Developing players like tailback Kam Martin and wide receivers Nate Craig-Myers and Kyle Davis contributed big plays.

Stidham also had another solid game after passing for 364 yards against Mercer.

“I think he’s gotten better in all phases,” Malzahn said. “Decision-making, his comfort with the offense and everything that goes with it. I think he’s getting to a point where he can react and not have to think about everything that goes with it but I thought he played a very high level last week.”


More AP college football: https://collegefootball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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