Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen expects Tyler Russell and most of the other injured Bulldogs to return Saturday for the conference opener at Auburn.
MSU saw seven new starters take the field in last week’s 51-7 win over Alcorn State. Mullen stated during his Monday press conference that Russell, running back LaDarius Perkins, cornerback Jamerson Love and safety Nickoe Whitley are all expected to be ready to travel with the team to the Plains.
“We should have everybody back healthy with the exception of the guys who are out for the year,” Mullen said. “The only guy that we have that is still questionable for this week would be (linebacker Ferlando) Bohanna. I talked with our trainers today and they expect everybody else to be ready to go.”
Russell did not practice last week after suffering a second half concussion against Oklahoma State in game one and did not dress Saturday.
“He did some things (with the trainers) yesterday and I’d expect him to be practicing and doing some things today and we’ll kind of build him back into it,” Mullen said.
The fifth-year senior is still listed ahead of sophomore Dak Prescott on the depth chart and Mullen will go with Russell if he is cleared for contact. Russell has yet to take a baseline concussion test since his injury.
MSU had seven new starters against Alcorn State and used 70 players overall. Of that group, 24 were freshmen including nine true freshmen.
Mullen may not be finished pulling redshirts either mentioning that tight end Artimas Samuel is also ready to go but there are factors to consider before sending him or any other true freshmen on the field.
“When they are ready to play and there is a need, we’re going to make sure we try to go play them at that point,” Mullen said. “We’re not going to play somebody just for the sake of playing them or because they are ready. I want to make sure they get quality reps throughout the year.”
One true freshman that has already cracked into the starting lineup is former consensus five-star prospect Chris Jones. Jones earned his first career start against Alcorn State at defensive tackle and has made four tackles, a half tackle for loss and a quarterback hurry in the Bulldogs first two games.
“He’s athletic enough to play (defensive) end for us but when you’re playing a lot of the hurry-up, spread teams he gives you an athlete inside,” Mullen said. “Our thought was moving him inside for the first two games. I know (Auburn) has some tempo but is a little bit more of a power running team than the last two teams that we faced so he could move back out to end this week.”
New Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn was the Tigers offensive coordinator from 2009-11 and spent last season at Arkansas State, his first college head coaching stint.
Although Malzahn was only gone from Auburn one season, an entirely new coaching staff and personnel make it hard for Mullen and his staff to prepare for.
“Every year it’s something new with them,” Mullen said. “It certainly does make a difference looking at a whole new staffing. You can look at Arkansas State from last year or Auburn from three or four years ago or look at Southern Miss from last year or South Carolina from three or four years ago. But that’s not this year’s team to me. That’s what makes it hard because you want to look at this year’s team. What are they doing with their players? You just don’t have a lot of looks of what they are and what they want to be and what their personality as a team is.”
The Tigers offense is averaging 431 yards and 34.5 points a game having defeated Washington State 31-24 and Arkansas State 38-9 in the first two weeks. Auburn has been especially dangerous on the ground where they are chewing up 298 yards on average.
“They’re very talented and have three big-time running backs and can all make plays in the open field,” Mullen said. “They have dynamic wide receivers that can beat you before and after the catch with big plays. They have a quarterback that is hitting a lot of big throws down the field and will keep you honest but can improvise on his own. If you don’t account for him then he’s going to hurt you.”
Mullen has met the Tigers every year in the SEC opener and is 1-3 in those games. Two of those contests have been decided by a touchdown or less.
“Every year since I’ve been here we’ve started with Auburn as our first conference game,” Mullen said. “That first game can really give you a big boost. I don’t think it defines the whole season for you but it certainly can give you a huge boost and push you on your way.”