Auburn, Mississippi St trying to make move in SEC West
STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) The last time Auburn played a football game at Mississippi State was 2014 when the Tigers were ranked No. 2 in the nation and the Bulldogs were No. 3. Both teams were undefeated and it was arguably the biggest home game in Mississippi State's history.
The stakes aren't as high this Saturday.
Auburn (3-2, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) and Mississippi State (2-2, 1-1) will both be unranked when they meet at Davis-Wade Stadium. The two teams have had some encouraging moments this season, but both are still trying to prove they can be a real factor in the SEC's Western Division race.
''It is going to be a good test,'' Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said.
Auburn has won two games in a row, including last week's 58-7 victory over Louisiana-Monroe. The Tigers have also been competitive in losses to nationally-ranked Clemson and Texas A&M.
Mississippi State - which has won three of its last four against Auburn, including the 2014 game - hasn't played since Sept. 25 when it beat UMass 47-35 .
Sophomore quarterback Nick Fitzgerald leads the Bulldogs with 603 yards passing and 329 yards rushing this season. He had 305 yards passing and 110 yards rushing in the UMass win, making him just the third quarterback in the country this season to have a 300/100 game.
Fitzgerald said he's been impressed with Auburn's defense, which is giving up just 16.4 points per game this season despite playing three nationally-ranked opponents.
''They're definitely a really solid SEC defense,'' Fitzgerald said. ''Really strong up the middle with the defensive line and linebackers. We're going to have to work hard. When we're running we're going to have to move some bodies.''
A few more things to watch when Mississippi State hosts Auburn on Saturday:
HELPING FITZGERALD: Most of Mississippi State's offense has run through Fitzgerald, who leads the team in passing and running. The sophomore could use some help against the Tigers. The most likely candidates are receivers Fred Ross and Donald Gray, along with running backs Brandon Holloway and Ashton Shumpert.
LEVELING UP: Tigers quarterback Sean White, who made his starting debut against Mississippi State last season, has thrown all five of his touchdown passes against two Sun Belt Conference defenses. In fact, Auburn produced two of its top four performances in total yards in those games against Arkansas State and Louisiana-Monroe while totaling three touchdowns in the other three games. White is averaging just 166 passing yards against the three Power 5 conference defenses he has faced.
IMPORTANT OCTOBER: Mississippi State has been to a bowl game for six straight seasons, which is a school record. The month of October will likely go a long way toward determining whether the Bulldogs can push the streak to seven. Mississippi State's next four games are winnable ones against Auburn, BYU, Kentucky and Samford. After that, the Bulldogs face four teams that are currently in the national rankings - Alabama, Texas A&M, Arkansas and Mississippi.
STRENGTH ON STRENGTH: Auburn leads the SEC with 269 yards rushing per game. The Tigers will go up against a Mississippi State defense that's solid against the run, giving up just 110.8 yards per game.
RED ZONE TROUBLES: Auburn managed to beat LSU with six field goals, but that also illustrates the Tigers' troubles in the red zone. They've scored touchdowns on just 11 of 27 trips inside the opponents' 20-yard line, a problem that plagued them against the Bulldogs last season.
AP Sports Writer John Zenor in Montgomery, Alabama, contributed to this story.
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