Miss. State travels to Auburn

AUBURN, Ala. – When Dan Mullen put his Mississippi State team on the field in April for the annual spring game, among the sidelined players was a quartet of offensive skill guys the Bulldogs desperately needed to get healthy before the season.
Tailback Robert Elliott, tight end Marcus Green, receiver Brandon McRae and running back Arnil Stallworth were all trying to recover from major injuries that limited their spring work and threatened their readiness for the fall.
Last week, though, all four were key factors in a 45-7 season-opening win over Jackson State. They accounted for a combined 215 of MSU’s 410 total yards.
– Elliott, who tore his MCL and LCL against LSU last season, rushed for 80 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries, plus had 15 receiving yards.
– Green, who missed the final 10 games of 2008 with an athlete’s hernia, caught three passes for 40 yards and a touchdown.
– McRae, who suffered a compound break in his right leg in last year’s Egg Bowl, caught two passes for 21 yards.
– Stallworth, about six months removed from ACL surgery, had 31 yards rushing and 28 receiving.
“None of them complained, none of them really said anything,” team trainer Paul Mock said. “Stallworth got a little scared that one time when he got twisted up, but I think it helped him gain a little confidence when he realized he was OK.”
“I had a little doubt in the back of my mind,” Stallworth, a senior, said of playing this season, “but I was pushing to play this year, and it felt real good going back out on the field.”
That group will need to show up big again today when the Bulldogs visit Auburn in the SEC opener for both teams.
McRae and Elliott spent a lot of time together as they rehabbed in the offseason, pushing each other and keeping up the positive vibes. McRae, a senior and MSU’s top receiver last year, is as upbeat as they come, and he was downright giddy about being back on the field.
“I felt like a little kid in a candy store,” he said.
For Elliott, a sophomore who was redshirted his freshman year, it was like old times.
“I haven’t run like this since high school, and that’s been about three years ago,” the Okolona native said.
Green kept hoping he’d get back on the field last season, but the injury lingered. He had surgery in February and endured three months of therapy.
The athletic sophomore is an especially important piece in coach Dan Mullen’s spread offense, because he’s a matchup nightmare. At 6-foot-1, 235 pounds, he can block linebackers but has enough speed to elude defensive backs.
“So (the tight end) can be used as many ways as possible, especially in this spread offense right here,” Green said. “He’s kind of like a secret weapon.”
None of the four will have to do quite as much against Auburn, at least in theory. That’s because senior tailback Anthony Dixon returns after a one-game suspension.
Dixon (6-1, 235) needs just 610 yards to become MSU’s all-time leading rusher.
“With him back,” Stallworth said, “it will make things easier.”

Contact Brad Locke at brad.locke@djournal.com or 678-1571.

Game At A Glance
– Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn.
– Kickoff: 6 p.m. n Television: Fox Sports Net; live streaming at ESPN360.com
– Radio: MSU network; XM Channel 201; Sirius Channel 217.
– Records: MSU 1-0 (0-0 SEC), Auburn 1-0 (0-0).
– Series: Auburn leads 57-23-2. n 2008: Auburn won 3-2, the only 3-2 football final in SEC history.
– Coaches – MSU: Dan Mullen 1-0 (first year); Gene Chizik 1-0 at Auburn (first year), 6-19 overall (third year).
– Statistical leaders – MSU: QB Chris Relf 7-10-0, 75 yards, 3 TDs passing, 12-82, 1 TD rushing; RB Robert Elliott 95 total yards, 1 TD; TE Marcus Green 3-40, 1 TD; LB Jamar Chaney 5 tackles. Auburn: RB Onterio McCalebb 22-148, 1 TD; RB Ben Tate 20-117; QB Chris Todd 17-26-0, 255 yards, 2 TDs; DE Antonio Coleman 7 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 sack.
– Trends: Auburn has won 20 of the last 27 meetings. … MSU has won three of the last six games at Auburn. … MSU has lost seven in a row away from home. … MSU has lost its last nine SEC openers since beating South Carolina 17-0 on Sept. 25, 1999.
– Notes: DB Corey Broomfield’s 43-yard INT return for TD vs. Jackson State was MSU’s first defensive TD in 15 games. … MSU saw 33 players make their college debut last week. Auburn had 22 players debut. … Auburn is 3-0 and has never been scored upon in games played on Sept. 12. … Bulldogs RB coach Greg Knox spent 10 seasons on Auburn’s staff.
– Summing it up: “This coming week is a whole different turnaround for us. Now it’s for real for our players.” – MSU head coach Dan Mullen
– Prediction: Mississippi State 17, Auburn 16.

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Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal