*Dan Mullen is 1-3 in SEC openers at Mississippi State, all four games against Tiger teams. The win came last season at Scott Field, 28-10, and snapped a five-year losing streak for the Bulldogs.
*State last won consecutive games in this series in 1999-2000, which actually capped a three-season streak. Since 2001 Auburn has claimed a 11-2 advantage.
*Neither team is ranked for this year’s renewal.
*As an assistant or head coach Mullen is still looking for his first win at Auburn.
*Mullen did achieve a program milestone last week. The victory over Alcorn State was his 30th in five seasons, making Mullen the fastest State coach to reach 30 wins. He also has the fourth-most victories in school history.
*The last time a State team began SEC season with a road win was 2007…at Auburn. Since 2004 these next-door state neighbors have played in September.
*In this matchup of SEC ‘cow colleges’ there are four former Bulldog assistants on this Auburn staff; while only running backs coach Greg Knox on Mullen’s staff has worked on the plains, from 1999-2008.
The Opponent: As fast turnarounds go this one is off to a fine start. But then Gus Malzahn was only away for one year so he isn’t exactly jumping into the unknown now back at Auburn. Having helped sign a lot of this roster he’s been able to make a few fast fixes, most immediately to a defense that was utterly un-Auburn like last year. A few first-game sputters on offense were cleaned up by week two as well. How far this bunch can be pushed in the debut year is uncertain as now the schedule gets serious. Still the Tigers can match 2012’s entire win total after this week…and the West isn’t quite as loaded as before. This turnaround thus should only accelerate.
Offense: For all the boss’ wide-open reputation before, under his resumed management Auburn has been pretty old-school on offense. And it’s working just fine, punching out just under 300 rushing yards-per so far. Maybe the better indicator is 96 rushes (including keepers) in two games, just 39 passes. Of course when netting 6.2 yards per run it’d be silly to switch. The load is well-distributed too with a trio of toters. Tre Mason (172 yards, 2 TD) is the lead cat while Corey Grant has averaged, averaged 11.6 on 16 runs for 186 total yards. So they don’t just grind, they break it long. Nick Marshall doesn’t delay running himself with a 4.7 net on keepers. His passing benefits from the threat of course as Marshall completes 56% and has no turnovers through his first two starts. As the ball isn’t aired often, not yet anyway, the receivers still have tricks to show opponents. Quan Bray is the top returnee but it is 260-pound H back Jay Prosch and wideout Sammie Coates who have sped to the forefront this year. The line may be all-underclass but everyone has been seasoned too, with center Reese Dismukes a Rimington nominee. And through two games nobody has sacked the Tiger quarterback.
Defense: Want to see where the fastest improvement has come? After ranking last in SEC rushing defense last season, these Tigers have become truly tougher to run on. And throwing the ball is no sure cure either as Auburn already has posted four sacks and 29 more hurries with three interceptions. This four-man front will damage any ‘crowned’ playing fields with a pair of 310-pounders in the middle in tackles Angelo Blackson and Jeffrey Whitaker, as well as alternate Gabe Wright with his 3.0 tackles for losses. No wonder nobody runs up the gut against this group, while LaDarius Owens bring the pressure off the end. A one-half suspension of middle linebacker Kris Frost won’t exactly cripple the unit. Senior Jake Holland can fill that slot long as needed and WLB Cassanova McKinzy already has ten stops. The ‘star’ linebacker/safety is handled by either Robenson Therezie, the SEC defensive player of opening week with two interceptions against Washington State; or Justin Garrett. Chris Davis was among the league’s top returning cornerbacks after making 120 tackles last year. He’s off to a fine start on this one too with a team-best 13 stops and five passes busted up. The secondary has had a lot of shots to deflect too as in two games they’ve seen 106 passes already, and a 60% completions rate. But, just one touchdown caught, a ratio they’ll gladly live with.
Specialists: Auburn has had a kickoff return touchdown for six years now as Mason got that out of the way on opening day with a 100-yarder. Davis fields the punts. Senior PK Cody Parker has a 58-make streak of PATs going, longest in the SEC, and provided the margin of victory over WSU with three field goals. Classmate Steven Clark is punting at a 41.6-yard rate with no returns allowed by Tiger coverage yet.
Bulldog Notebook: A change of opponent did wonders for an offense that didn’t score a touchdown (just the third time in Mullen’s tenure) against Oklahoma State. The Bulldogs scored touchdowns on seven of 14 series with a field goal on another. Only one of the series produced a punt, in the first quarter.
*State had 22 plays of ten or more yards against ASU, after 15 such plays in the opening game. So 24% of Bulldog snaps from scrimmage have gone for double-digit gains.
*After S Nickoe Whitley blocked a field goal in week-one, DT Nelson Adams got a hand on a punt last week. State joins Oregon and Minnesota as the only NCAA teams with a block of each sort so far.
*State has not scored on an interception, fumble, or blocked kick since last year’s Jackson State game.
*Through Mullen’s first four seasons, Dog defenses scored ten touchdowns on picks or fumbles; and three safeties.
*Kickoff return teams have scored once in 2009, ’10, and ’12; while the punt return teams scored twice in 2011 only.
*Whitley did not play last week. So he stayed at 179 career tackles in 36 games, with 32 starts. His ten career interceptions are most on this team.
*With just one kick in game-two, P Baker Swedeburg added only 35 yards to his career count. The senior is still 10th in career punts (135) and in yards (5,615). But his 41.6-yard average is fifth-best.
*State has allowed seven net return yards on as many punts. In all 2012 coverage allowed a net of six yards.
*WR/RB/KR Brandon Holloway made his first college game memorable. He took the opening kickoff of the second half back 95 yards, tackled at the ASU one however.
*This kept WR/KR Jameon Lewis from trying a return of his own, after he ran back a OSU kickoff 66 yards the previous week. Lewis has 92 yards on two KORs this season; last season he had 517 yards on 20 returns with a 100-yard touchdown in the Egg Bowl.
*Lewis got on the ’13 scoreboard with his 31-yard touchdown grab in the second quarter. He also rushed for 44 yards on his single carry against ASU. Lewis is the only active Bulldog with a touchdown rushing, receiving, and returning.
*Lewis needs just three more grabs this year to match his entire ’12 total of ten grabs.
*PK Devon Bell is 2-of-3 on field goals and has 16 career makes in 23 attempts. But after making 43-of-44 PATs as a freshman, he’s already matched the miss total by failing on his fifth try Saturday.
*Second-year walk-on Evan Sobiesk made the other two point-afters.
*DT Curtis Virges scored the first sack of State’s season with a five-yarder.
*LB Deontae Skinner got the first interception of his college career with the first-quarter pick. It was also State’s first of the season.
*They allowed completed passes but CB Taveze Calhoun and CB Tolando Cleveland made up for it by stripping the ball. Calhoun recovered his forced fumble, and CB Kivon Coman got to Cleveland’s turnover.
*Sixteen Dogs have been credited with a tackle-for-loss already.
*He wasn’t expected to play this season. Yet after one game freshman RB Ashton Shumpert tops the team rushing list with the 98 yards gained against ASU. That’s almost twice the 54 yard by RB Josh Robinson.
*Shumpert also scored two touchdowns. Older records are unavailable, but it is safe to say Shumpert is the first true freshman to rush for two TDs in his college debut since 1972 when freshmen were allowed to play again.
*RB LaDarius Perkins was held out of his senior home opener. So he held at #6 in career all-purpose offense (rushing, receiving, returning) with 3,565 yards. The record of 4,443 (Anthony Dixon 2006-09) remains a realistic goal.
*Perkins is one of nine Dogs with a 1,000-yard rushing season, done 12 times. He has 20 career touchdowns rushing or receiving. His last rushing touchdown was October 20.
*RB Derrick Milton had a game to remember when he scored both his first college rushing touchdown (3 yards) and receiving touchdown (14 yards) against ASU.
*QB Tyler Russell was held out of the ASU game after a concussion on opening day. He was 10-of-16 for 133 yards against OSU with a tipped-ball interception.
*Russell is tied for 4th in career completions at 349, with Tony Shell (1988-90). He is fifth in career yardage and 530 out of fourth place.
*If cleared to resume his senior season, Russell is one touchdown toss from tying Derrick Taite (1993-96) for the career record of 37.
*Those downplaying Russell’s high career completion rate for so many ‘short’ throws might want to know that his average yards-per-attempt is fourth-best in Bulldog history.
*It wasn’t exactly a SEC level defense. Still a 12-of-19 passing day made QB Dak Prescott’s first college start noteworthy. The sophomore threw for 174 yards and two TDs in one half of play. Prescott was 7-of-17 against Oklahoma State.
*Prescott has thrown six touchdowns in 37 career completions.
*He has rushed for five touchdowns in 42 carries. Combining his runs and attempted passes, Prescott has produced 11 touchdowns in 107 plays.
*QB Damian Williams is the first true freshman to take a quarterback snap for Mullen at Mississippi State.
*TE Malcolm Johnson had ten catches and 171 yards in a half-2012 season. Already this year he has five catches and 79 yards.
*Johnson and TE Brandon Hill are averaging 15.7 yards on their catches.
*Limited snaps last week kept LB Benardrick McKinney from adding much to his tackles total. He’s got just ten in two games so far, after scoring 102 as a freshman with ten or more stops in four games.
*OG Gabe Jackson should claim the Mullen-era starts mark soon. He has opened 41 games under this coach, consecutively in fact. John Banks started 44 times under Mullen.
*After four true freshmen played on opening day, three more were activated last week. The non-redshirting rookies now are CB Kivon Coman, CB Tolando Cleveland, DT Chris Jones, WR Fred Ross, RB Ashton Shumpert, QB Damian Williams, and WR De’Runnya Wilson.
*Three more ’12 redshirts have been activated. The total now is S Quadry Antoine, DT Nelson Adams, LB Beniquez Brown, WR Fred Brown, LB Richie Brown, OL Cole Carter, DE Torrey Dale, OL Devon Desper, S Deonte Evans, WR Brandon Holloway, DE A.J. Jefferson, and LT Justin Senior.
*Other 2012 scholarship redshirts who have yet to be activated: CB Will Redmond, TE Gus Walley (inj), and DT Jordan Washington.