September 2, 2012 1:22:14 PM
STARKVILLE - You can sense the desperation in the voice and words Mississippi State University head coach Dan Mullen uses to describe this Saturday's home game against Auburn University.
The numbers speak for themselves. MSU (1-0) has lost 10 of its last 11 matchups with the Tigers and can't begin to move up the ranks of the grueling Western Division of the Southeastern Conference without getting this victory.
Last season MSU tried to accomplish this exact same task: Start 1-0 in SEC play for the first time since 1999, knock off the then-defending national champions and the Bulldogs were a 6-point favorite when they arrived at Auburn. The 41-34 loss on that Saturday afternoon was crushing and not just because of quarterback Chris Relf being held inches away from a game-tying touchdown. The loss reinforced the attitude MSU's program hadn't yet gotten over the physical and mental hump of defeating a consistent power in their division.
All of those aspects are on the table again as Auburn (0-1) travels to Starkville this weekend for a matchup that is the SEC opener for both schools (11 a.m., ESPN2).
Clearly the attitude from Mullen's media teleconference Sunday was the focus has quickly shifted after MSU's 56-9 victory over Jackson State University less than 24 hours ago.
"We've been right there with opportunities to win and didn't pull it out," Mullen said. "I think our guys are motivated and we always put emphasis on the first conference game of the season - it's so important."
Another possible bad omen (or a sign the Bulldogs are due to break through in a big game) is the school's losing streak on ESPN or ESPN2. MSU hasn't won a game on those two networks since the 2001 Egg Bowl matchup with the University of Mississippi and are on a 15-game losing streak on the Worldwide Leader In Sports' two power networks.
"They'll be ready to go, fired up and ready to play," Mullen said. "I think they're going to be ready to find a way to pull it out here in the end this year."
Some other nuggets gathered from Sunday's media teleconference are as follows:
- In their 26-19 loss to No.14 Clemson University, Auburn was successful running the football with the dynamic duo of sophomore Tre Mason and senior Onterio McCalebb for 7.23 yards per carry Saturday night in the Georgia Dome. Mullen discussed the difficulties of scouting Auburn right now due to their new offensive and defensive coordinators signaling a new and maybe old-school philosophy to their offensive scheme in 2012.
"They're finding themselves, they have two new coordinators with a new offense and a new defense so they're trying to work out the kinks and find their new identity is going to be with this year's team," Mullen said.
- I asked about the big-play aspect to MSU's defense after having two interception returns for touchdowns in a single game for just the fourth time since 1990 (2009 vs. University of Florida, 2002 vs. University of Memphis, 1994 vs. University of Arkansas) and will focus on that for a feature later in the week.
"It's probably a little bit of both and we try to get them in a position to make plays and then it becomes their athletic ability," Mullen said. "Once the ball is in their hands, then a lot of recruiting takes over."
- Mullen declined to comment when asked about the indefinite suspensions of the three players from Saturday's season-opening victory (wide receiver Ricco Sanders, defensive tackle P.J. Jones and defensive back Jamerson Love) except to say we'd be next updated Saturday morning before kickoff.
- I asked Mullen about the tailbacks rotation and if going with the hot-hand would be a trend that MSU fans can anticipate seeing throughout the 2012 season. The Bulldogs fourth-year coach said playing all four tailbacks would be a consistent aspect to the offense.
"All of the guys ran pretty well and that leaves you to have that comfort in rotating them throughout the game," Mullen said. "I want to keep those guys fresh throughout the game and that's kind of why you saw them be so explosive because we were able to keep them fresh throughout the night."
- Mullen finally discussed the continued the development he's seeing out of Auburn quarterback Kiehl Frazier. The sophomore from Springdale, Ark., struggled with consistency Saturday night finishing just 11-of-27 for 194 yards with one touchdown and an interception.
"I remember him out of high school (as a) great kid that were recruited out of high school and has all the skills," Mullen said. "He has the size and the skills to be a drop-back passer but has that extra edge that allows him to keep plays alive with his feet. You see now he's a polished product and can be a every-down quarterback."
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