Mississippi State seeks redemption against No. 13 Auburn (Sep 30, 2017)

The respect No. 24 Mississippi State gained by beating LSU two weeks ago was diminished significantly by the Bulldogs’ 31-3 loss at Georgia last week.

Mississippi State has a chance at redemption Saturday, when the Bulldogs travel to Auburn to take on the 13th-ranked Tigers, who are coming off their most complete performance of the young season.

It’s the third straight game against a ranked SEC opponent for a Mississippi State team humbled by last week’s drubbing at the hands of Georgia. Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald had just 83 yards passing and threw two interceptions, and the Bulldogs were held to 280 yards of offense. It wasn’t pretty, but Mississippi State (3-1, 1-1 SEC) can get right back on track with a win Saturday.

“When you look as a whole at a team, you’re as good as your last game or going to be as good as your next game,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said this week.

“So that’s really the focus with our guys. A couple weeks ago, we executed at an extremely high level. On Saturday we didn’t execute and play as well, and that’s all of us as a program. If we play really well, we get a great chance to win. If we play poorly, we have a great chance to lose.

“That’s kind of the message to the guys; it’s not a panic. It’s like an equilibrium. It’s always somewhere in the middle.”

Auburn (3-1, 1-0) has rebounded from its disappointing loss to No. 2 Clemson in Week 2 with back-to-back wins, including last week’s 51-14 rout of Missouri. Running back Kerryon Johnson returned from missing two games with a hamstring injury to score five touchdowns against Missouri, and Auburn’s defense put together another dominant performance.

“We have to keep building upon the things that we can be good at,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said.

“My message to our team is that if you look at our league, there will be teams that will be up high one week or two weeks, then have a setback. The teams that can win championships in this league are the ones that figure out a way to get a little bit better each week.

“Now, that is a hard challenge in this league. That is the challenge that I’ve put on our coaches and players — to find a way to improve each week even if it is just a little bit. If we can do that, then we have a chance.”

As long as Auburn’s defense maintains its current form, the Tigers should always have a chance. Auburn is fourth in the nation in total defense, surrendering just 236.3 yards per game and will provide a stern test for a Mississippi State offense that lost the battle of the trenches against Georgia.

Mullen said he sees similarities between the Georgia and Auburn defenses, especially from a talent standpoint.

“A lot of talent and a lot of speed, with a lot of great players,” Mullen said. “Schematically, they’re different in some ways, but there are similarities.

“Like every defense there’s crossover and there’s differences. One thing we do see is a lot of talented players out there on the field.”

To make things tougher on Mississippi State, Auburn is expecting to get All-SEC running back Kamryn Pettway back this week. Pettway sat out the Missouri game with an ankle injury, but Malzahn said he practiced Sunday and should be back on the field Saturday.

Even without Pettway, the Tigers still rushed for 263 yards against Missouri and put together their most balanced offensive performance of the season.

“Really for the first time all year, the offense got into a rhythm,” Malzahn said. “It was balanced and (we) were able to run the football. I think the big difference was they hit some shots down the field and had some perimeter runs to go with it. The quarterback was very efficient in the pass game, and probably the big thing is protecting the football.

“We have some things to build upon on that side of the football,” he added. “The key is going to be continuing to be successful running the football. If the offense can do that, they are going to have a good opportunity to improve each week.”