“They are athletic,” tight end C.J. Uzomah said of the Bulldogs’ front seven, a group that has been effective containing running attacks and rushing the passer.
“That is going to be a really big challenge for us up front and we know that,” he said. “Coach (Gus Malzahn) said they have nine starters returning from last year and I thought that was the best defense we played the entire season.
“We know it’s going to be a challenge, it’s going to be a dogfight,” said Uzomah, whose 11-yard reception with 10 seconds left put Auburn up 24-20 last year vs. the Bulldogs in Malzahn’s first SEC game as head coach of the Tigers.
“We know they are going to fill holes with the run game,” Uzomah added. “We are just going to have to adjust accordingly and stick to our game plan.”
Kickoff for Saturday’s contest is at 2:30 p.m. CDT at Davis-Wade Stadium and the game will be televised on CBS. Auburn will take a No. 2 national ranking into the contest. The Bulldogs, who are No. 3 in the AP Top 25, are carrying the highest ranking in their history.
The game will mark the first time in the history of Mississippi State that two Top 10 teams have faced off on the Bulldogs’ home field in Starkville.
Malzahn said the Tigers are expecting a major challenge from a fired-up opponent. “They are a very good team and the last three times I went against Mississippi State it went down to the last drive,” he pointed out. “They are a very good team in all phases. We have our work cut out for us.”
The Auburn coach noted he is impressed with the Mississippi State offense, which he said is “clicking” with both the running and passing games under direction of junior quarterback Dak Prescott.
“You can tell he is a leader on his team,” said Malzahn, who added, “The quarterback is just like another running back. He is an excellent runner and he is throwing the ball so well this year. He is very good with his play-action, his accuracy whether it is man or zone.
Prescott has thrown for 1,223 yards and rushed for 455 more. He has 13 touchdown passes and just two interceptions. He has scored six rushing touchdowns and even caught a pass for a score this season.
Dak Prescott hands off to Josh Robinson.
Malzahn noted that running back Josh Robinson will be a challenge to defend with his combination of inside running power and speed. “He is a complete back,” the coach said of the junior, who is averaging 118 yards per contest..
Commenting on the MSU defense, Malzahn said, “Their front seven is huge. They are very physical. They have experience. They have experience on the back end. They have nine starters back and we felt it was one of the better defenses we faced all (last) year.”
Malzahn added that a plus for his team this week is having extensive experience in big games and performing well in those situations last season and so far this year. Uzomah agrees and pointed out that he enjoys games like the one coming up on Saturday.
“Last week LSU was a really big game and we were kind of on the sidelines having a good time,” the tight end said. “We are having fun playing the sport we have played since we were six years old. I remember looking at the offense especially, and there were a lot of smiles on the sidelines.
“I think playing in big games is something we have come to enjoy and something we’re really used to,” the senior added. “We play in the SEC, the best conference in college football, so we’re used to that week in and week out. It’s something we have kind of embraced.”
This will be Auburn’s second road game this season vs. a ranked opponent. “I think our experience as a team has carried over so far because we have played in pretty big games and a hostile environment at Kansas State,” Uzomah said. “I know I hear some people say that the stadium wasn’t that big, but that crowd is in the game the entire time and it’s really close. That was a pretty good atmosphere, I’m not going to lie. I think that has helped a lot with the younger guys and should have some carryover.”
Malzahn agrees with Uzomah about the road trip to Kansas State. “The atmosphere was off the charts,” he said. “It was extremely loud. It was a close game, it went down to the end and our guys had to find a way to win. I really hope that experience really helps us.”
In other news and notes:
*Nick Ruffin had to leave the game in the first half of Auburn’s 41-7 win over LSU after being penalized for a personal foul for targeting a receiver. He will be available for the entire Mississippi State game. Malzahn said the call was a tough one for the defensive back and the team, but noted he liked Ruffin’s aggressiveness and how he has developed this season.
“It was kind of a bang-bang deal,” Malzahn said of the penalty. “Nick is a freshman and he will learn from it and he will be better the next time...He has really played well for us.”
Nick Ruffin has contributed as a reserve this season.
*Another true freshman defensive back, Stephen Roberts, is also contributing. “You can just tell by his body language and his stance that he looks like a veteran guy out there,” Malzahn said. “The moment is not too big for him. He wants to be out there. That is half the battle when you are a freshman.”
*Offensive tackle Patrick Miller is back at practice after missing the LSU game with an ankle sprain. Malzahn has not said whether or not the junior will be back in the starting lineup this week. The coach had praise for Devonte Danzey, who filled in for Miller while starting at guard, bumping Avery Young outside to right tackle where he started last season. *Auburn goes into the game with a 37-0 edge in points scored off of turnovers through five contests, a statistic the head coach said has been one of the keys to the Tigers’ success this season.
*Mississippi State, which enters the contest on an eight-game winning streak, is ranked No. 3 by AP, the highest the Bulldogs have ever climbed in a Top 25 poll. The previous high was No. 7 on Oct. 31, 1981. Only Florida State, which has won 21 in a row, has a longer winning streak than Mississippi State.