The Southeastern Conference teams acquitted themselves well in the opening weekend by going 9-2 against non-conference foes.
Of course, the opening weekend was heavy with teams that have no business even being on the field with SEC teams. In the games against teams from power conferences, the league was 2-2 — and there won’t be many changes this weekend. LSU faces Washington from the Pac-12 and Vanderbilt visits Northwestern from the Big Ten. The rest of the league will play non-conference teams that shouldn’t be any real challenges except for Kentucky, who hosts Kent State, a strong team from the MAC.
But the biggest emphasis this week will be on the two new teams that will be playing their first conference games as members of the SEC when Missouri hosts Georgia and Texas A&M hosts Florida. We’ll look closer at those games later in the week, but today it is an old rivalry — although a lopsided one of late — that takes center stage when Mississippi State hosts Auburn.
The game, which has been close over the past few seasons, takes on a bigger meaning for Mississippi State because the Bulldogs had little more then a glorified scrimmage last week in beating Jackson State, 56-9.
Now it is SEC play for Mississippi State and it is a home game, which State coach Dan Mullen says takes on even more importance for the Bulldogs.
“I’ve made a big emphasis and talked about it over and over. If you want to compete for a championship, you have to win all your home games,” said Mullen. “The competiveness on the road in this league is tough. It’s an opportunity to start the SEC season at home against a West opponent and it’s very important to find a way to win this game and catapult ourselves into conference play.
“I think our guys are very focused. We’ve already put the last game behind us. We watched this week’s film this morning and taught off of it.”
“In the season, the first conference game is so critical to win because it’s a two-game swing,” Mullen said. “Week two, you have either catapulted yourself to the top of the standings, or your two games back already. That is a big deal for conference games.”
Mississippi State will be trying to reverse a couple of disturbing trends when they host the Tigers Saturday at 11:00 a.m. The Bulldogs have not won an SEC opener in 12 consecutive games since beating South Carolina 17-0 in 1999. They have also lost 10 of the past 11 against Auburn, although three of the past four losses have been by margins of seven points or less.
State’s win last week was almost workman-like. Quarterback Tyler Russell was 15-of-23 for 175 yards and two touchdowns and Derrick Mason led the rushing attack with 65 yards and a touchdown on eight carries. LaDarius Perkins rushed for 50 yards and scored two touchdowns. Eight different receivers caught passes and 26 different players logged tackle stats.
“I think it was very good that we got that game (vs. Jackson State) underneath our belt,” said Mullen. “Guys have to get back into game mode instead of practice mode. You can’t simulate a game so it’s great our guys have gotten that out and now they can focus into the routine of game week. Now we are refreshed and ready to go.”
But things definitely get tougher for Mississippi State this weekend when Auburn comes to Starkville.
“We have a tough team to prepare for,” said Mullen. “They have two new coordinators so we only have one game to watch on them. We don’t know what they are going to show that they did not show last week. We are going to have to prepare for just about anything. The key is we execute and take care of the football and play hard. We are going to have the opportunity to win the game.
“I think the speed of the game is going to be different this week. They have a very effective and experienced defense because a lot of guys that have been there last year have come back. We go against fast defenses every day in practice,” the coach said.
The Bulldogs will need to amp up the speed on the practice field this week to get ready for Auburn. The Tigers will be bringing plenty of speed to the contest and, after losing 26-19 to Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic last weekend, they’ll likely enter the game in a ticked off mood.