AUBURN, Ala. -- When Auburn hosts Mississippi State this Saturday, it will be the 10th straight year the two teams have opened the conference season with each other. Because of that, the game has a little extra meaning for the Bulldogs and Tigers.
“It's the first SEC game of the year,” MSU head coach Dan Mullen said. “Here at Mississippi State in the little time I've been here, I think even prior to my time, it's been against Auburn every single year, so I think it adds a little bit of a rivalry aspect to the game.”
Since the two started playing each other in their first SEC game, Auburn has had the Bulldogs’ number, winning seven of the last nine meetings. However, Mississippi State took last year’s game, 28-10, in what Mullen now calls one of his top victories as head coach.
But Auburn looks much different in 2013. The coaching staff has changed. The offense has changed. And more importantly, the Tigers are 2-0. They will put that undefeated record on the line Saturday in what has become a pivotal game for both teams.
Which quarterback will play for Mississippi State?
Starting quarterback Tyler Russell suffered a concussion in week 1’s loss to Oklahoma State. He left in the third quarter of the first game and didn’t play at all last weekend against Alcorn State. In his absence, backup signal caller Dak Prescott has thrown for over 250 yards and two touchdowns. The Auburn coaches expect Russell to return Saturday, but they’re still preparing as if both quarterbacks will play. Russell will likely get the start if healthy, but Prescott could still play in certain packages. He adds a running threat to the offense.
What will we see from Auburn’s offense?
Gus Malzahn’s no-huddle offense is all about tempo. The faster the pace, the better the offense runs. There’s already been a noticeable difference from last year, but the Auburn head coach says it’s not fast enough. That’s partly due to new quarterback Nick Marshall, who’s still learning the offense, the schemes, the calls, everything. As he gets more comfortable with his offense, expect the Tigers to hurry up even more. There’s also a good chance Malzahn and his staff will have a few tricks up their sleeves for Saturday’s SEC opener.
Who will win the turnover battle?
Auburn’s defense has been far from perfect. They’ve had to rely on turnovers and fourth-down stops to keep their opponent out of the end zone for the most part. That won’t work every game, but it could be the key against Mississippi State. The Bulldogs’ two quarterbacks have already thrown three interceptions through the first two games. On the flip side, Marshall has yet to throw a pick for Auburn. If the Tigers can win the turnover battle Saturday, it will go a long way in increasing their chances to win the game.
Players to watch
Auburn: LB Jake Holland
With middle linebacker Kris Frost suspended for the first half, it will be up to Holland to carry the weight. Holland started the opener but struggled against Washington State. He played much better in Week 2, and Auburn needs another strong performance from both Holland and fellow linebacker Cassanova McKinzy this week.
Mississippi State: RB LaDarius Perkins
Russell isn’t the only Mississippi State player returning this week from injury. Perkins missed the Alcorn State game due to an ankle sprain, but he’s expected to play Saturday. The senior proved to be one of the better backs in the SEC a season ago, rushing for over 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns.
“We played against Oregon and Chip Kelly in 2010 and I got a chance to [again] last year. His signs were fancier than ours, so I tried to get a little competitive with that. Hopefully, we’re doing a better job. I’m not that creative in all that but our players, they have some ownership in that.” -- head coach Gus Malzahn, on Auburn’s play cards from the sideline