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Mississippi State expects to face confident Auburn offense, ‘pretty salty’ defense in Starkville

Auburn quarterback Sean White under center against ULM Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Auburn quarterback Sean White under center against ULM Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016 at Jordan-Hare Stadium. mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Auburn doesn’t want to provide Mississippi State fans with any more memorable moments.

The last time the Tigers visited Starkville in 2014 they played in front of then-record 62,945 fans — most armed with cowbells — in what MSU coach Dan Mullen described this week as “the biggest game in the history of the school.”

The No. 3 ranked Mississippi State beat No. 2 Auburn 38-23 thanks in part to a three-touchdown first quarter lead.

“It was a special day for everyone here on campus and getting a big win like that,” Mullen said. “It was a great memory that everyone involved that day will have.”

Saturday’s matchup doesn’t quite have the same kind of luster with both teams hoping to avoid falling into the cellar of the SEC West, but its no less important.

Coach Gus Malzahn is 5-10 in the conference since Auburn’s previous trip to Mississippi State. Despite a last second win two weeks ago over LSU, Malzahn still needs to string together some victories over power five opponents.

“It is going to be a good test,” Malzahn said this week.

Top talent

Slowing down Mississippi State stars Fred Ross and A.J. Jefferson are at the top of Auburn’s to do list.

Ross is the leading active SEC wide receiver (152 career catches, 1,899 yards) with eight career 100-yard receiving games.

“The thing that he does so well is run after catch,” Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steel said. “Really, all their receivers do. They're very effective in run after the catch. He runs good routes. He's a physical route runner. The biggest thing that jumps out at you, when he catches it, it's the run after the catch.”

Malzahn identified Jefferson at the top of his weekly press conference Tuesday.

“They are very good up front, led by A.J. Jefferson,” Malzahn said. “We have been very impressed with him on film. They are very good against the run, one of the top teams in the country. Obviously, we like to run the football and I think that will be a big factor in the game.”

The senior defensive end has a similarly accomplished resume as Ross. The 6-foot-3, 280-pounder has three sacks and nine tackles for a loss in four games. He was the SEC Defensive lineman of the week for Sept. 12.

Confident Tigers

When Mullen broke down film this week of Auburn, he saw a pretty confident roster on both sides of the ball starting with quarterback Sean White.

“It looks like they have settled on Sean White and I think that gives him some confidence out there on the field,” Mullen said. “He has been in the system a little longer and I think he understand the offense and they are going to build around his strengths. They are going to do things around what he does well and you have seen him when they do that.”

White has come a long way from his first career start against the Bulldogs last year. The then-freshman threw an interception on Auburn’s first drive, but rebounded to get the Tigers a defensive stop away from a potential game-tying drive.

“They have been able to put together some of the things he does well and been able to execute good decision making to make him an accurate passer, very willing runner,” Mullen said. “It may not be the game breaker that some guys are. Auburn reminds me a lot of how Dak Prescott was a runner for us. He is going to go get you some tough gritty yards when he needs to and can extend plays and make things happen with his legs when he needs to.”

Mullen was equally as complimentary of Auburn’s defensive front.

“No. 1 (Montravius Adams) for them, who would have easily been a first round draft pick for the last year, is back,” Mullen said. “To have a guy like that back, that sets the tone. Defensive end No. 55 (Carl Lawson) is healthy. They also have a couple guys who are top recruits in the country; a lot of talent that way helps.”

Throw in a pair of talented defensive backs — Joshua Holsey and Carlton Davis — gives Auburn a winning formula.

“They have some great corners outside on the edge to shut you down,” Mullen said. “If you can shut down and have great defensive coverage, you are going to be pretty salty on D.”