AUBURN, Ala. — Ryan Smith went low and came up big.
The backup safety stopped quarterback Chris Relf at the goal line on the final play to preserve Auburn's 41-34 win over No. 16 Mississippi State on Saturday.
Relf kept the ball on an option and seemingly had an open lane to the end zone, but Smith brought down the 240-pound QB to save Auburn, which needed two late touchdowns to beat Utah State last week.
"We'd prefer to win games a lot different than we are," said coach Gene Chizik, whose team has won a nation-high 17 in a row. "But there's something to be said when you can fight down to the end when it doesn't look good."
It was Smith's first tackle of the season and fourth of his career.
"You don't really have time to think," the sophomore said. "You just make the play. I knew he was going to keep the ball. He had been keeping it all day."
Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen said he would have gone for two and the win if Relf had scored.
Relf said he fell an inch shy.
"We didn't come up with the big inch," he said. "I should have made the play."
Tide handles Penn St.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — A.J. McCarron was poised and efficient, throwing for 163 yards and a touchdown to lead No. 3 Alabama past No. 23 Penn State 27-11.
McCarron started the Tide's first game but had to share the job with Phillip Sims. Saturday, he was 19-for-31 with no turnovers and hit Michael Williams through traffic for a 5-yard touchdown in the first quarter.
"We still have a competition," coach Nick Saban said.
Penn State entered with its own QB competition. But Robert Bolden and Matt McGloin combined to go 12-of-39 for 144 yards (McGloin 1-of-10 for no yards).
"We certainly deserved a whooping," Penn State coach Joe Paterno said. "I think we've just got a lot of work ahead of us."
No. 2 LSU 49, N'western St. 3: Spencer Ware and Michael Ford ran for two touchdowns for the host Tigers. LSU led 28-3 by halftime, so coach Les Miles rested some starters in advance of Thursday's game at Mississippi State.
No. 14 Ark. 52, New Mexico 3: Marquel Wade returned a kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown and Tyler Wilson threw and ran for scores for the host Razorbacks. Wilson didn't return after his 7-yard run made it 31-3 late in the first half. The school said he sustained a concussion.
Tenn. 45, Cincy 23: Tyler Bray threw for four touchdowns and a career-high 405 yards and ran for a score for the host Vols. Bray was 34-of-41 for Tennessee, which had lost six in a row to nonconference BCS teams.
Kentucky 27, Cent. Mich. 13: Josh Clemons' 87-yard run in the third gave the host Wildcats their first lead. It was Kentucky's longest run ever by a freshman and longest by anyone since Bernie Scruggs' 88-yarder in 1970.
Miss. 42, Southern Ill. 24: Jeff Scott scored four touchdowns for the host Rebels, who led 35-10 early in the third. The sophomore rushed for scores of 37 and 4 yards and returned a punt 67 yards for a score over the game's first 5:51.
VANDY 24, UCONN 21: Carey Spear hit a 31-yard field goal with 2:56 left as the host Commodores rallied from 21-14 down in the fourth for their first winning streak since 2008.