AUBURN, Ala. As we do every Thursday evening, we were able to track down a beat writer for Auburn's opponent this weekend. Logan Lowery (@loganlowery) of the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo, Miss., took some time to answer five questions about the Bulldogs before he makes the trek to Auburn for Saturday's game, which marks the SEC opener for both teams.
Ryan Black: With his victory last week, Dan Mullen became the fourth-winningest coach in Mississippi State history. Now in his fifth season at the helm of the Bulldogs' program, how is he viewed? Are fans pleased with his performance? Are they disappointed Mississippi State has been "good-but-not-great" during his tenure? A little of both?
Logan Lowery: The honeymoon period is definitely over for Mullen but most realistic fans appreciate the job he has been able to do in Starkville. Mullen has led the program to a bowl in three of his four seasons and defeated his in-state rival Ole Miss that many times as well. The administration is firmly behind Mullen having invested $75 million in a stadium expansion set to open next season and $25 million in a football-only facility which opened in January. Mullen has pulled the Bulldogs out of the cellar in the SEC West, but some of the natives are becoming restless having lost six of the last eight games.
Black: How much confidence, if any, is the team taking from its win over Auburn last year? Or have the Bulldogs approached it from a cliched angle, uttering things like "last year is in the past, it means nothing, etc." You know, good ol' "coach-speak."
Lowery: The team has not really said a whole lot about Auburn in the few media opportunities that we have had with them this week. The coaches, on the other hand, have discussed how much Auburn has changed with the new coaching regime and how tough they are to prepare for with such little film to go off of.
Black: Mississippi State gave up 286 yards rushing in the opener against Oklahoma State. Auburn is averaging 298 per game on the ground. On paper, it sounds like bad news for the Bulldogs. That being said, what has been done to try to shore up the run defense in the last two weeks?
Lowery: The Bulldogs struggled against Oklahoma States option game out of the diamond formation, where four ball carriers had the ability to run the football on any given play. They were simply unprepared for it. Last week MSU held Alcorn State to just 28 yards on the ground and had eight tackles for loss. I think the Bulldogs will try to stack the box and make Nick Marshall beat them through the air, where MSU is allowing just 140.5 yards per game.
Black: The Bulldogs lost their top three pass-catchers from 2012 in Chad Bumphis, Chris Smith and Arceto Clark. However, through two games, Jameon Lewis has come on strong, hauling in seven catches for 90 yards, one year after he had only 10 receptions for 108 yards. Does the coaching staff already view him as the go-to receiver? Or is there another player waiting in the wings who just hasn't had a breakout game yet?
Lowery: In all, MSU lost seven receivers from last years roster and are relying on inexperienced receivers or freshmen to take their place. Lewis and Robert Johnson are the most experienced of the Bulldogs' receiving corps, but true freshmen DeRunnya Wilson and Fred Ross are stars in the making. Tight end Malcolm Johnson has the best hands on the team and has helped bridge the gap with the young receivers.
Black: What are the expectations for Mississippi State for the rest of the season? It seems the most-cited stat about the team is how it started last season 7-0, but is just 2-6 in the eight games since then. One would think the bare minimum acceptable is making it to a bowl, correct?
Lowery: State benefited from an easy early schedule in 2012, but that is not the case this year, having already faced Oklahoma State in Week 1. The Bulldogs have some tough games ahead on the road at South Carolina and Texas A&M and still have home battles with Alabama and LSU remaining. In my opinion, there are three toss-up type games left on the schedule (Auburn, Arkansas, Ole Miss) that will determine if Mississippi State returns for a fourth straight bowl game.