Coach Gus Malzahn put the Tigers through a two-hour workout in full pads on Tuesday evening as preparations for the league opener moved into high gear following a day off for the players, who are off to a 2-0 start.
Mississippi State will bring a 1-1 record to Jordan-Hare Stadium as the Tigers try to beat an SEC opponent for the first time since Oct. 29th, 2011, a 41-23 victory at home vs. Ole Miss.
Since that contest the Tigers have dropped 10 straight league games, including ugly losses to Texas A&M (63-21), Georgia (38-0) and Alabama (49-0) in last season's final three matchups vs. SEC opponents.
"This is our opportunity to get our name around the league that Auburn is back," said junior cornerback Jonathon Mincy, who has won praise from the new coaching staff for his performance so far this season.
For a second week in a row the Tigers should have a much better than normal scouting report on their opponent. Malzahn and two of his assistants, Rhett Lashlee and J.B. Grimes, were on the field coaches in 2012 at Arkansas State. Melvin Smith, who Malzahn hired to coach cornerbacks, had that same assignment last season for Mississippi State.
In addition to having a good feel for the Bulldogs' defensive personnel, Mincy pointed out that Smith is "definitely" giving the defense a good scouting report on what to expect from the Bulldogs' offense.
"He has been there for a couple years and he knows the offense pretty well," Mincy pointed out, adding the Auburn coaches are making sure their players "soak up as much information as we can on all their players and personnel."
"That is just a great feedback for him," said Mincy. "It's a personal game for him. It's a personal game for us as well so we are going to go out there and make him proud."
Mississippi State comes into Saturday's contest following an easy home win vs. Alcorn State from the SWAC. The Bulldogs jumped out to a 37-0 halftime lead vs. the Braves and coasted to a 51-7 win with substitutes seeing plenty of game action in the third and fourth quarters.
The Bulldogs opened the season with a neutral site contest in front of 34,874 fans at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Tex., where they dropped a 21-3 decision to Oklahoma State. The Bulldogs led 3-0 after the first period, ending an OSU streak of 35 consecutive quarters in which the Cowboys had scored.
While the Mississippi State defense played well enough to win the opener, the offense was only able to net 111 rushing yards to go with 222 through the air. Hurting the MSU cause was a pair of interceptions, one by starter Tyler Russell, who left the game after suffering a concussion, and one by Dak Prescott, who started in game two while Russell was held out of action.
Russell, a senior and returning starter from 2012, is expected to be back in action on Saturday for the 6 p.m. kickoff at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Last year against Auburn in Mississippi State's 28-10 victory, Russell completed 20-29 passes for 222 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
In that game the Tigers were stymied offensively, netting just 216 total yards and no touchdowns. Auburn's only scores were on a Cody Parkey field goal and a 100-yard kickoff return by Onterio McCalebb.
"Defensively, it looks like the same Mississippi State teams that we have played the last three or four years," Malzahn said of a group that returned six starters. "They are long, fast and they are physical. They play sound football and they make you earn it. We have our work cut out for us. It should be a good one."
Last week in the win vs. Arkansas State the offense fumbled the ball three times and had a would-be interception dropped while showing other signs of sloppy play in contributing to Auburn's nine penalties for 91 yards. Cleaning that up is a high priority at practice this week, according to offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee.
"We had three balls on the ground," Lashlee said. "We only lost one of them, but we had three fumbles. That is what we preach from day one. It's simple. We talk about it over and over again, but at some point it has got to become a habit. It has got to become important to everybody that football is the most important thing we have got.
"We can't put our defense in those situations," Lashlee added. "They were fortunate to bail us out this time the other night. And then penalties--we are not good enough to go backwards to get forward."
Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said the Tigers need to continue to work on improving as tacklers. He noted the Tigers have made overall improvements in that area, but had several whiffs last Saturday night that led to big plays for Arkansas State, especially on scrambles by the quarterback.
Johnson said he is familiar with Mississippi State's offense and said the Tigers are preparing for Tyler Russell and for backup quarterback Dak Prescott, who is a more effective runner than Russell.
There is still no word yet from the coaches about when defensive end Dee Ford (knee injury) or Justin Garrett (foot injury) will see their first action this season even though they are practicing. Both players were projected to be starters.
With Ford out junior defensive end Justin Delaine was able to his most significant game action last Saturday and Auburn's defensive coordinator noted he like what he saw from the junior.
Justin Delaine redshirted in 2010 after signing with the Tigers out of Linden High School. He has been plagued by injuries since then and has seen minimal playing time the past two seasons.
"We know what he can do physically," Johnson said. "He has just got to become a consistent player. He has to practice consistently. He has to learn consistently. He has to develop himself into a dependable, every down player who can do things right because he has got some physical ability. It was really good to see that."
Johnson said if Delaine and freshman Carl Lawson can continue to develop as ends who can consistently provide pressure from the outside that could make a big difference in his 4-2-5 scheme's chances to be successfully. Commenting on when Ford would be cleared for game action, the defensive coordinator said, "Hopefully, soon."
In other news and notes:
*Auburn's top tackler in game two, cornerback Chris Davis, left the field early following the 38-9 victory over Arkansas State. The senior has been wearing an ankle boot this week, but Malzahn said on Tuesday that Davis will be ready for action vs. the Bulldogs. Davis is also Auburn's No. 1 punt returner. Quan Bray, his backup, took over that assignment vs. the Red Wolves after Davis left the game.
*With backup middle linebacker Kris Frost having to miss the first half of this week's game due to being ejected in the second half of Arkansas State game for what was ruled to be a flagrant hit, redshirt sophomore Anthony Swain is getting work as Jake Holland's backup at middle linebacker. Swain worked at the position in the spring, but has been lining up at weakside linebacker this fall.
*Saturday's game will mark the 10th consecutive season the Tigers have opened SEC play vs. the Bulldogs. Auburn has won seven of the previous nine contests with the exceptions last year's 28-10 decision in Starkville and a 19-14 Mississippi State victory in 2007 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Overall the Tigers lead the series 60-24-2 and have a 27-6 record vs. Mississippi State in games played at Auburn.
*This week's game will be televised on ESPN2 with Mark Jones doing the play by play. Brock Huard will be the analyst and Maria Taylor is the sideline reporter. The Auburn Radio Network coverage is available on satellite on channel 136 on Sirius and 201 on XM.