September 14, 2013 10:03:01 AM
AUBURN, Ala. - Welcome to Mississippi State's Southeastern Conference game of the 2013 college football season. The Dispatch MSU Sports Blog is headed to Auburn University this morning and will be LOOKING LIVE.....at Jordan-Hare Stadium as the Bulldogs (1-1) face Auburn (2-0) (6 p.m., ESPN2).
NOTE: As always go ahead and refresh this blog post up to kickoff for the latest information on the game.
Here's what we're going to do for our pre-game blog: I'm going to give you the five major questions that will be answered on the field this afternoon, two key players for both teams and a number to keep in mind.
Also....above is a video of Mississippi State defensive coordinator Geoff Collins talking after practice about the Auburn offense
1. Who is going to play quarterback for Mississippi State?
This is the question that is on the mind of most MSU fans heading into the Southeastern Conference opener at Auburn. The honest answer is the only people that know the answer is the MSU medical staff and training staff. It's officially in their hands. MSU senior quarterback Tyler Russell was involved in practice this week despite having not taken his concussion test to clear him for contact in a game.
MSU coach Dan Mullen said Monday his fifth-year senior quarterback, who missed last weekend's 51-7 victory Saturday over Alcorn State University, hasn't taken his concussion test from the MSU medical staff but felt confident he would be able to "do some things" on the field.
Despite having extra adrenaline, MSU offensive coordinator Les Koenning said he was pleased with MSU sophomore quarterback Dak Prescott's performance in his first career start last week in the victory over Alcorn State.
"The first pass he threw was impressive to me because I thought it might go in the bleachers with as jacked up as he was," Koenning said. "He was a tremendous leader and knows the system. We love the way he leads this football team."
2. Can Mississippi State slow down Auburn's rushing attack?
Tre Mason, Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne have given Auburn coach Gus Malzahn plenty of talent in his running back rotation in the first two games of the season. The trio all rank in the Top 15 individual in the Southeastern Conference.
"They are all three unique; they all three have their own strengths," Malzahn said. "As a play-caller, it helps you utilizes them in different ways. Really, I think that has become one of our strengths."
Corey Grant has the single biggest play from scrimmage of the trio, a 75-yard touchdown run. He also has the most yards, 186 on 16 carries. Mason has 172 yards on 29 carries. Artis-Payne has 154 yards on 29 carries.
If one thing is clear from the season-opening loss to No. 13 Oklahoma State, MSU (1-1) has trouble covering the perimeter on defense. The Bulldogs will have to find a way to get outside containment especially on Mason to avoid big gains down the sidelines in the Tigers tempo offensive scheme.
3. Can Nick Marshall lead Auburn to a SEC victory?
Two years ago, Nick Marshall was trying to figure out how to play safety at Georgia and in 2013 he's being asked to control the signals for one of the more independently responsible offensive schemes in the SEC at Auburn. Auburn's coaching staff said the junior quarterback improved despite committing more turnovers in his second start than his debut outing against Washington State. Malzahn and Mullen both have said they are at times impressed with Marshall's ability to utilize the deep pass to counter Auburn's running attack. Marshall has thrown for 246 yards and two touchdowns while completing 55.6 percent (20-for-36) of his passes. At some point this season, the Tigers will likely have to take to the air often to emerge victorious against a Geoff Collins defense that will likely try and take away Auburn's biggest strength.
4. How important is this game to both Malzahn and Mullen?
Up until last year's 28-10 victory in Starkville, Dan Mullen had never beaten the Tigers as a head coach or an assistant.
"That was huge. To me, it was one of my top wins since being a head coach," Mullen said on the SEC teleconference. "Every year, you start off with them. It adds that natural rivalry. For us, every year it's Auburn."
Auburn beat the Bulldogs 17-14 in 2010 and 41-34 on a last-second stop by Ryan Smith in 2011 with Malzahn as a offensive coordinator. Mullen understands that to get the season off to a positive start momentum wise in 2013, a victory at Auburn is not only necessary but essentially to becoming bowl eligible.
5. Can Auburn put aside thoughts of its 10-game SEC losing streak?
While it seems unbelievable to think about, the last time Auburn won a conference game was Oct. 29, 2011 against Ole Miss. The average margin during the SEC skid has been 25.7 points, and the Tigers have been outscored 94-0 since the last time they managed a point against a league defense. Malzahn wasn't around for last year's winless SEC record, and maintains he doesn't often bring up 2012 with his players because he doesn't want negative thoughts in their minds.
Players to Watch
Junior WR Joe Morrow
The former four-star recruit from Ocean Springs hasn't gotten his 2013 season started properly with only one catch for 15 yards in two games. Morrow has to be more of a consistent target Saturday otherwise he may even lose his starting job to freshman De'Runnya Wilson.
Senior DE Denico Autry
At this point MSU's promise of havoc isn't registering in the sacks department. Only defensive tackle Curtis Virges has earned a sack in two games this season. In order to make Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall uncomfortable, he must see No. 90 in MSU in his face consistently.
Junior RB Corey Grant
Grant is the first Auburn player to score touchdowns in the first two games of the season since Onterio McCalebb did so in 2009.
Senior K Corey Parkey
Parkey has made 14 straight field goals from 45 yards and in, dating back through the 2011 Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Numbers of the game
Number of consecutive losses for Auburn in SEC play
Record for MSU in its last 10 SEC openers including a four-game losing streak to Auburn
Number of consecutive wins by MSU when the Bulldogs are leading at halftime.
All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.