CullmanTimes.com - Cullman, Alabama

September 13, 2013

AUBURN FOOTBALL: Tigers, MSU meet in SEC opener, as usual

By John Zenor
Associated Press

AUBURN — The Auburn-Mississippi State game has become about getting off to a good start in Southeastern Conference play, and avoiding a disastrous one.

It’s one reason why Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen considers last year’s victory over the Tigers as so significant personally in a game that’s become a rivalry partly because of when it’s played.

The two teams face each other Saturday night in their mutual SEC opener for the sixth straight year.

The Bulldogs (1-1) won a mistake-filled 28-10 game last season, marking Mullen’s first win in 13 tries over an SEC West opponent other than Mississippi.

“That was huge,” he said. “To me, that was one of my top wins since being a head coach. Every year you start off with them. It adds that natural rivalry. I’ve always felt that wherever I’ve been, (about) that first conference game. For us, every year it’s Auburn. If it rotates, it’s a little bit different. But every year, when it’s that same team that first conference game it makes it huge. I think that was a great win for us and for our program last year.”

The Tigers (2-0) had won the previous four meetings and 10 of 11 before that. Mississippi State has been their first SEC opponent for nine years running, while this is No. 6 in a row for the Bulldogs.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn was 3-0 against the Bulldogs when he was the Tigers’ offensive coordinator.

“It gives you great momentum moving forward,” Malzahn said. “You don’t feel like you’re in an uphill battle the rest of the conference season. Of course in this conference, if you’re going uphill it’s tough, so it’s definitely a big game.”

The Bulldogs sat seven starters, including quarterback Tyler Russell and tailback LaDarius Perkins, in last week’s 51-7 win over FCS team Alcorn State.

This time it’s Auburn trying to halt an embarrassing losing streak. The Tigers have dropped 10 straight SEC games, though Malzahn said he doesn’t bring up last season with his players.

“Not even thought about it,” he said. “I’ve told those guys I’m not even worried about last year. It’s a new year, and it’s a new season. We understand the SEC that we’re going to have to play well to win. But we’ve not talked about last year.”



Here are 5 things to watch when Auburn hosts Mississippi State on Saturday:

% Quarterbacks: The status of Mississippi State’s Russell is still questionable after he sustained a concussion in the opener against Oklahoma State. Dak Prescott replaced him against Alcorn State. Auburn’s Nick Marshall is still getting a handle on things but appeared to be more comfortable in his second game as a starter.

% Auburn’s Defense: The Tigers haven’t given up a touchdown in their last six quarters, a first since matching that string in 2008 against Mississippi State and two quarters of the LSU game.

% Top Runners: The Bulldogs are expected to get back Perkins, who rushed for 1,024 yards last season, from an ankle injury but still ran 54 times in his absence. Auburn’s Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant all have run for 150-plus yards already.

% Familiar Staff: Auburn has four assistant coaches who spent a total of 25 years on Mississippi State staffs, including defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson and cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith. Smith was on the staff last season, and Tigers cornerback Jonathon Mincy said he was more involved in gameplanning this week because of his knowledge of the offense.

% Special Teams: Both teams have produced big plays on special teams. Only Oregon, Minnesota and Mississippi State have blocked a field goal and punt already this season. Auburn kicker Cody Parkey has made 4 of 5 field goals and Tre Mason returned a kickoff 100 yards against Washington State.