Mississippi State is the SEC's version of King of Thursday night games as the Bulldogs will be making their 15th appearance on the ESPN broadcast since defeating Florida in 1991. MSU is 6-8 all-time in Thursday night games on the network while Auburn is 6-2 including a perfect 4-0 in SEC games. Auburn's last appearance on Thursday night against a conference foe came in 2002 when the Tigers defeated Mississippi State 42-14 in Starkville.
Under the direction of coach Dan Mullen, the Bulldogs have become a much different team in just 13 games and that showed in last weekend's opener against Memphis. Controlling the game from start to finish, MSU rolled up 49 points and could have easily topped that mark but decided to call off the dogs early in the second half.
It was still enough time to show a new era of football in Starkville, the air raid. Running for a very respectable 197 yards on 41 carries, it was through the air that the Bulldogs showed their stuff. Starter Chris Relf (6-4, 240) completed 7-9 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown for a solid start but it was freshman Tyler Russell that stole the show. The 6-5, 225-pounder completed 13-16 for 256 yards and four touchdowns in the win. Both will be a formidable challenge for an Auburn defense that struggled at times against the pass in the opener versus Arkansas State.
Having to replace one of the most productive running backs in SEC history isn't easy, but Mississippi State is using a group of guys to try to take the pressure off the passing game and so far so good. Vick Ballard (5-11, 215) and LaDarius Perkins (5-10, 190) combined for 137 yards on just 15 carries in the opener and bring a thunder and lightning feel to the game for the Bulldogs along with Robert Elliot (6-0, 215, Jr.). In addition to his passing ability Relf is also a dangerous runner to add to the attack for Mullen and company.
At wide receiver the Bulldogs have a dynamic trio of pass catchers able to make the big play at any time. Speedy Chad Bump his (5-10, 195, So.) is a dangerous playmaker coming off a four-catch, 100-yard performance against Memphis when he caught two touchdowns. Leon Berry (6-0, 205, Sr.) is a little more physical and caught five for 91. The complete package in the opener was former Auburn commitment Brandon Heavens (5-10, 175, So.). The Birmingham native caught five passes for 112 yards and a pair of scores in game one.
MSU wide receiver Chad Bumphis
Up front the Bulldogs have four starters back from last season's outstanding group led by senior center J.C. Brignone (6-1, 300) and fellow senior left tackle Derek Sherrod (6-6, 305). Rounding out the line is right tackle Addison Lawrence (6-4, 300), right guard Quentin Saulsberry (6-2, 305) and left guard Gabe Jackson (6-4, 305).
Defensively the Bulldogs are led by massive defensive end Pernell McPhee. The 6-4, 285 senior is the anchor of a big and athletic line for Mississippi State. On the other end 6-3, 255 Sean Ferguson holds down the fort while sophomores Josh Boyd (6-3, 295) and Fletcher Cox (6-4, 300) are capable of making plays in the middle.
Mississippi State continues its trend of a large front seven in the linebacker corps as senior K.J. Wright (6-4, 250) is a physical presence that can get to the quarterback. In the middle fellow senior Chris White (6-4, 245) packs a punch as well with senior Emmanuel Gatling (6-0, 220) rounding out the unit.
In the secondary junior Charles Mitchell (5-11, 205) is the leader with redshirt freshman Nickoe Whitley (6-0, 200) joining him in the starting lineup at safety. At the cornerback position sophomores Corey Broomfield (5-10, 180) and Jonathan Banks (6-2, 180) are expected to get the start with Maurice Langston (5-10, 180, Sr.) also playing well with two interceptions last week.
Kickoff for Thursday game is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. with the game seen nationally on ESPN. Auburn leads the all-time series 58-23-2 and holds an 11-4-1 advantage in games played in Starkville.