STARKVILLE – It’s time for “big-boy ball.”
Mississippi State is all aglow following a season-opening thrashing of SWAC foe Jackson State, but this Saturday brings with it a trip to Auburn in both teams’ SEC opener.
As the Bulldogs well remember from last year’s 3-2 loss in Starkville, the Tigers boast a stout defense. And now they are working on having a nuclear offense schemed by spread disciple Gus Malzahn.
In a 37-13 win over Louisiana Tech, Auburn piled up 556 yards of total offense and had two 100-yard rushers, Onterio McCalebb and Ben Tate.
MSU runs a similar spread offense, and it hit up JSU for 410 total yards, including 238 on the ground. The Bulldogs leaned heavily on young guys like freshman receiver Chad Bumphis and redshirt sophomore quarterback Chris Relf.
A strong defensive effort was aided by youngsters as well.
Mullen said the freshmen who didn’t go through spring ball and full offseason workouts have some on-the-job learning to do.
“Their experience is one of the largest (pregame) Dog Walks in history, the third-largest crowd in history, a big win, and they think everything’s great,” Mullen said. “They’re going to have to buckle it up a little bit tighter when we’re playing within conference play.”
Auburn might have been picked in the preseason to finish just ahead of MSU in the SEC Western Division – i.e., fifth place – but defensive tackle Kyle Love is trying to make the newcomers understand what awaits.
“They need to know what they’re up against,” he said. “So we’re going to put that into their minds this whole week, we’re going to let them know: Big boy ball.”
Auburn has lost only one of its last 16 SEC openers, and it’s owned MSU in this series, holding a 57-23-2 edge, including wins in 20 of the last 27 meetings.
State is 6-25 on The Plains.
“I think it’ll be a big opportunity, kind of a big eye-opener for them,” senior quarterback Tyson Lee said of the freshmen. “I think they’ll be fine.”
Staying fresh up front
- Mullen said none of his defensive lineman played more than 22 snaps against JSU, which ran 54 offensive plays.
It was by design, as Mullen tries to keep fresh bodies on the field, which will be especially crucial against a team like Auburn, whose starting offensive linemen average 6-foot-5, 300 pounds.
“It was probably the greatest rotation we’ve had, actually,” said Love. “Every series we went out there it was three-and-out, three-and-out. So, it really kept guys off the field, it kept new bodies in, it was really easy for us.”
Opening things up
- Auburn didn’t exactly empty its playbook against Louisiana Tech, no doubt wanting to hold some back for MSU and other SEC teams. Mullen did the same thing.
“We didn’t want to get too complicated in game one, to let our guys execute,” he said. “Also, little parts of your playbook are added depending on what the defense is going to give you. Obviously, Auburn is going to give us a little bit different challenge, so we might go in a little bit different direction than where we were last Saturday.”
Mullen added that he expects to let his quarterbacks do more. Relf and Lee, who should be back from shoulder spasms that kept him on the bench in the second half, will split duties again Saturday.
- MSU made corrections to its JSU stat book. State had 410 total yards – 238 rushing, 172 passing. Also, Lee was 9 of 14 passing for 97 yards; RB Robert Elliott had 80 yards rushing; LB Jamar Chaney was credited with a team-high five tackles; and MSU had three sacks and 11 tackles-for-loss. … Mullen said he expects to get a better idea by Wednesday if OL Tobias Smith (ankle) will be ready for Auburn. … Auburn’s McCalebb was named the SEC’s freshman of the week.
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal