Mississippi St.-Auburn Preview
Auburn barely survived its season opener against a much weaker opponent.
Another lackluster effort likely won't cut it with Mississippi State coming to town.
Looking to extend the longest active winning streak in the FBS, the Tigers try for a fourth straight victory over the 16th-ranked Bulldogs as the teams open conference play Saturday.
Reloading without several marquee players after winning the BCS title, Auburn (1-0) rallied from 10 down in the final 2:08 by scoring two touchdowns around a successful onside kick to defeat lowly Utah State 42-38 on Saturday.
"As they've done so many times since I've been here, they found a way to come back and win," said coach Gene Chizik, whose team has won 16 straight. "That's kind of been instilled in this group that you never look at the clock and the scoreboard until it says zero-zero-zero.
"In that regard, we were thrilled that we won the game (Saturday). Everybody who saw the game realizes that we did not play well as a football team. There's no excuse for that."
The Tigers, though, became just the second defending national champions to fall out of the rankings after the first week of the season in the first regular-season poll since the preseason poll started in 1950.
Michael Dyer ran for 57 yards but scored twice - including the game-winning touchdown with 30 seconds remaining - and junior Barrett Trotter completed 17 of 23 passes for 261 yards and three touchdowns in his first career start.
"Barrett, I thought had his moments. He is certainly going to see the film and know that he can play much better," Chizik said.
The Cam Newton controversy, which created some tension between these two programs last season, no longer seems to be a issue, giving Auburn one less thing to worry about as it tries to open 2-0 for a fourth consecutive year. The Tigers have taken 17 of 18 conference openers.
"We've got a lot of work to do," defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. "That's what we are addressing and moving forward to get things fixed and cleaned up so we can play a much better football game against Mississippi State."
The Bulldogs (1-0) cruised to a 59-14 victory at Memphis last Thursday behind a balanced offensive attack. Chris Relf threw for 202 yards and a pair of touchdowns while Vick Ballard rushed for a career-high 166 yards along with three touchdowns - including runs of 46 and 66 yards - as Mississippi State rolled up a school-record 645 total yards.
"A lot of big plays, which is great," coach Dan Mullen said. "I love big plays. I love all those explosive plays. I want us to be a little cleaner. What we've got to do is keep all the positives out of this game, and clean up on the negatives as we continue to move forward."
Ballard, who finished tied for fifth in the country with 19 rushing touchdowns in 2010, has five three-TD games in 13 career contests. He could be in for another big day against a Tigers defense which was shredded for 227 rushing yards and five scores by the Aggies.
While Mullen was pleased with his team's effort, he knows the upcoming schedule - the Bulldogs play No. 2 LSU after this game - won't be easy.
"I feel good, but we've got a tough road ahead of us," Mullen said. "If we can find a way to win these next two games, we're in a great position to win the SEC West Championship. The next 15 days will really determine how great of a season we're going to have.
"I think we're going to have our hands full against an excellent Auburn football team."
The Tigers defeated the Bulldogs 17-14 at Starkville, Miss., on Sept. 9, 2010 - their third straight win and ninth in 10 games in this series.
Auburn is 59-23-2 all-time against Mississippi State.