Coming off two straight victories over Top 10 opponents, Auburn is riding high and must summon the will to play another strong game against a physically capable opponent in the Bulldogs. Coach Tommy Tuberville said the Tigers will have their hands full once again with a Jackie Sherrill coached team.
"It's going to be a very difficult game for us," Tuberville said. "Mississippi State and Auburn have always been a big rival game against each other. We're playing a team that started off basically like we did, fairly slow, but the last two weeks they've had two good wins under their belt. They changed coordinators last year, offense and defense, and you could tell they were really searching for answers and a philosophy in some positions, but each week they've gotten better. We're going to have to be prepared and ready to play."
Despite a 2-4 record with losses to Oregon, Tulane, Houston and LSU, the Bulldogs have shown the ability to score points this season and have a veteran coach on their sideline. Those facts alone make this a very dangerous game if a team is looking ahead to the next week's game, but Tuberville said all his team has to do is look around to see that anyone is capable of winning on any occasion. It also helps that this game is Mississippi State, a team that has had good success against the Tigers in recent years.
"I think every team that you play in the conference is a rival game now," Tuberville said. "Everybody thinks they can beat each other and rightly so. We've seen all kinds of upsets so far this season and I would imagine there would be a lot more as the season goes on.
"We've always had a rival feeling when we've played Mississippi State," Tuberville added. "Every game has been very close with the exception of last year. I wouldn't doubt that this week wouldn't be the same way. We have to get better this week in practice and ensure in our players that we have to play better than we did last week. We didn't play well enough to win last week other than we just found a way to win at the end."
Auburn comes in a very confident team after wins over Tennessee and Arkansas in consecutive weeks. A much different team now than they were to open the season, the Tigers counted on a stellar defensive effort last week to beat the Hogs when they gave up just three points in the victory. Despite all the good feelings around the team this week, Tuberville said the team has to get much better if they hope to continue winning down the stretch.
"Last week wasn't a great game for us," Tuberville said. "We did improve some, but the thing that I was encouraged about last week is that we found a way to win when we didn't play very well. We made a lot of mistakes on offense. We weren't very consistent. Defensively, we didn't tackle very well, but overall we just found a way to win. Going into the second half of the season we have to find a way to improve each week at every position."
Improving is the main emphasis for the Tigers this week when they get on the practice field, but the coaches have the job of getting the team focused to play once again on Saturday. With tough games coming up at LSU and Georgia in addition to home contests with Ole Miss and Alabama, this is a game the Tigers must win to keep atop the SEC West standings.
"This is a coaches game," Tuberville said. "We've played two very emotional games and the coaches have to get the guys prepared mentally as well as physically. We have to forget what we've done. We have to look at the present, we can't look at what we did the first six games. Every game that we play now becomes more important."