Tigers Wrap Up Practice For SEC Opener

News, notes and quotes are featured as the Auburn Tigers prepare to open SEC football play on Saturday night vs. Mississippi State.

Auburn, Ala.--The Auburn Tigers polished the offensive and defensive game plans for an hour and a half on Thursday as they prepare for Saturday's 6 p.m. CDT Southeastern Conference football opener vs. Mississippi State.

Auburn, which is 2-0 with victories over Washington State (31-24) and Arkansas State (38-9), practiced in shorts as they prepare for Coach Dan Mullen's Bulldogs.

Mississippi State opened the season with a 21-3 neutral site loss to Oklahoma State at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Tex. Last Saturday the Bulldogs coasted to a 51-7 home victory over Alcorn State. In that win over the Braves the Bulldogs were able to rest their front-line players in the second half.

Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. CDT and the game will be televised on ESPN2 as Auburn tries to start another winning streak vs. the Bulldogs after falling 28-10 last season in Starkville. That was just the second victory for Mississippi State over the Tigers in the past dozen seasons.

"I am really looking forward to playing Mississippi State with it being a conference game," junior running back Tre Mason said. "It's a big game for us. Big-time players have to make big-time plays in big games so that is what I am looking forward to do."

Mason rushed for 99 yards vs. Arkansas State to push his career total to 1,335, which is 32nd in Auburn history. He is just 12 yards from passing former Atlanta Falcons star William Andrews, who played for the Tigers from 1976-78.

Mason is averaging 5.86 yards per carry through two games, the exact number for his 2012 season average when he rushed for 1,002 yards.

Tre Mason is in his second season as a starter for the Tigers.

The running back said the believes the Tigers improved from week one to week two on offense and wants to see the trend continue. "Hitting those deep balls and making people respect our throwing game makes a difference," he said, noting that quarterback Nick Marshall did that on a 68-yard touchdown pass to wideout Sammie Coates.

Marshall, who will be making his third Auburn start on Saturday night, said it felt great to finally hook up with a wide receiver on a long play. "I missed on some previous long passes so I just went out there and took my time and executed the play on the pass to Sammie," he said.

A run fake put Coates, one of the team's fastest players, into one-on-one coverage. "When the safety came down (after the fake) I knew I had him then," Marshall said of his second Auburn touchdown pass after hitting an 18-yarder earlier in the game to freshman Marcus Davis.

Head coach Gus Malzahn said after Thursday's practice the Tigers need to take advantage of big play opportunities. Commenting on his team's first successful long pass play of the season, Malzahn said, "Sammie ran a really good route. He leaned in at the top and it was a really good ball.

"One thing that stood out to us with Nick is that he was very accurate with the deep ball in fall camp," Malzahn said. "We feel like more and more you will see that. He has really good touch when he has time. We think that will get more consistent."

Sammie Coates catches his touchdown pass from Marshall last week.

The first touchdown pass vs. Arkansas State by freshman Davis was his first reception as a college player. That put the Tigers up 7-0 vs. Arkansas State and Auburn led the rest of the game.

Davis, a former quarterback in high school, agrees with Mason that the Tigers are improving on offense. "I feel like that is a big focus for us," he said. Davis added that is also his personal goal. "I am always trying to do the little things right," he said. Malzahn said that Davis could see an expanded role in the offense because the freshman has a good understanding of how to play the game.

In other news and notes:

*Malzahn said after Thursday's workout the Tigers have been working on becoming a smoother operating football team this week. "We really focused in on execution and penalties," he said. The Tigers were called for nine penalties for 91 yards in game two.

"We had too many holding penalties and procedure penalties," he added. "We just can't beat ourself. That has kind of been our message offensively."

Defensively, the head coach pointed out that the Tigers worked on becoming more consistent tacklers in this week's practice. "The quarterback got loose a couple of times," he said of his defense's play in previous game. "We have got to do a better job of hemming up the quarterback, but overall any time you keep a team like that out of the end zone and hold them to three field goals that is really something."

*Auburn officials are expecting their largest crowd of the season so far, but tickets are still available. The opener vs. Washington State drew 85,095 fans and game two vs. Arkansas State attracted 83,246.

*Mississippi State has three players from the state of Alabama who are expected to start vs. the Tigers. That group includes: offensive tackle Blaine Clausell, a 6-7, 310 junior from Baker High in Mobile; tight end Malcolm Johnson, a 6-2, 235 tight end from Northridge High in Tuscaloosa and deep snapper Winston Chapman, a 6-2, 235 sophomore from Fairhope High. Eight other Bulldogs are from the state of Alabama.

*Defensive end Dee Ford and "star" rover Justin Garrett, a pair of projected starters, have yet to take a snap this season due to injuries. Malzahn said both have practiced, but has not indicated if either one will definitely see action vs. the Bulldogs.

The head coach said that cornerback Chris Davis, who left game two early favoring his ankle, should be ready to play vs. the Bulldogs even though the senior had his foot in a walking boot earlier in the week.

*Two defensive players who had knee injuries this year, tackle Jeffrey Whitaker and end Keymiya Harrell, are not expected to see action until later in the season. Whitaker, a senior, was running first team when he went down with his injury in preseason. Harrell, a redshirt sophomore, was injured in spring drills and had ACL surgery. Malzahn said Harrell is getting close to being ready to play.

*The Auburn Network radio coverage is available on Sirius channel 136 and XM channel 201 for satellite radio subscribers.

*Heading into Saturday night's game the Tigers have a record of 49 wins, 29 losses and five ties in SEC openers. Auburn has only lost two league openers in the past 20 years. Auburn teams have an all-time record of 95-19-1 in home games played in September.

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