By Logan Lowery
AUBURN. Ala. – Mississippi State begins conference play tonight against a familiar foe.
For the sixth consecutive season, the Bulldogs will square off against Auburn in their initial SEC game of the season. Kickoff from Jordan-Hare Stadium is set for 6 p.m. on ESPN2.
“The whole time I’ve been here and even prior to my time (the SEC opener has) been against Auburn every single year,” said MSU coach Dan Mullen. “I think that adds a little bit of a rivalry aspect to the game because I think the first game is so critical in how you start your year off in conference play.”
The Tigers have won four of the last five games in the series, with two of the last three decided on the final drive. Mullen’s only victory over Auburn came last year in Starkville prevailing 28-10 by forcing five turnovers and holding the Tigers to just 216 total yards.
“It was huge,” Mullen said of the win over Auburn in 2012. “To me, that was one of my top wins because every year you start off with them.”
The Bulldogs received a pair of interceptions from for Thorpe Award winner Johnthan Banks in that contest while quarterback Tyler Russell connected on 20-of-29 passing for 222 yards and three touchdowns.
Last week, MSU evened its record to 1-1 with a dominating 51-7 victory over Alcorn State. The Bulldogs rolled up 556 yards while surrendering only 163. A total of 70 players saw action against the Braves including 24 freshmen including nine true freshmen.
State broke in eight new starters in that contest due to injury. Russell, running back LaDarius Perkins, junior cornerback Jamerson Love and senior safety Nickoe Whitley all sat out but are expected back today.
Junior linebacker Ferlando Bohanna remains questionable, still suffering from a preseason concussion.
Auburn enters tonight undefeated at 2-0 with wins over Washington State (31-24) and Arkansas State (38-9) at home to open the season.
The Tigers are under the leadership of Gus Malzahn, who served as Auburn’s offensive coordinator from 2009-11 under Gene Chizik.
Malzahn’s offense is averaging 431 yards per game, with junior Nick Marshall completing 55.6 percent of his passes for 246 yards, two TDs and no interceptions.
Most of the Tigers’ success has come on the ground. Corey Grant, Tre Mason and Cameron Artis-Payne have combined for 512 yards and five touchdowns.