Meridian Star

September 10, 2013

Miss St expects starters back for Auburn game

The Associated Press
The Meridian Star

STARKVILLE — Mississippi State's first two games of the season provided one lethargic loss and one blowout victory.

    Bulldogs' coach Dan Mullen says Mississippi State (1-1) has learned from the good and bad of those performances and is ready for its Southeastern Conference opener at Auburn (2-0) on Saturday.

    "I think it will be a good test," Mullen said. "I think the team is still kind of developing its personality."

    Having a healthy roster would certainly help.

    The Bulldogs sat seven starters in last week's 51-7 win against FCS-level Alcorn State. Coach Dan Mullen said Monday that quarterback Tyler Russell has not been cleared for contact after suffering a concussion in the opener against Oklahoma State, but expects him to be ready for Auburn.

    Russell is already one of the most successful quarterbacks in program history, throwing for 2,897 yards, 24 touchdowns and 10 interceptions last season.

    But sophomore Dak Prescott looked capable in Russell's place against Alcorn State. He completed 12 of 19 passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns while also running for a touchdown.

    Even if the 6-foot-2, 230-pound Prescott doesn't start, he'll likely be used in short-yardage situations because of his running ability. He filled that role last year, playing in 12 of 13 games.

    Mullen said one reason Prescott had success against Alcorn State is he's never been treated as a backup.

    "You don't prepare a starting quarterback and a backup quarterback," Mullen said. "You prepare starting quarterbacks."

    Prescott said he was pleased with his first start, but understood that Auburn would provide a much more difficult challenge than obviously overmatched Alcorn State.

    "The SEC is different from anything else," Prescott said. "But I would say we saw some things we were good at and some things we needed to work on. It'll be good to go into an SEC game and get that comparison."

    Mullen also expects LaDarius Perkins, who rushed for 1,024 yards last season, and safety Nickoe Whitley to return against Auburn.

    Whitley could be especially important against an Auburn offense that appears revitalized under first-year coach Gus Malzahn, an offensive guru who was the Tigers' offensive coordinator in 2010 when they won the national title.

    Malzahn had Heisman Trophy winner Cameron Newton that year at quarterback. Auburn might not have that kind of talent this season, but Mullen says the Tigers are still scary to face.

    Corey Grant, Tre Mason and Cameron Artis-Payne have all run for at least 150 yards through two games.

    "They've got a lot of playmakers," Mullen said. "They've got three big-time running backs that all can make big plays in the open field. They have dynamic wide receivers that can beat you before and after the catch for big plays. And they have a quarterback that has hit a lot of big throws down the field to keep you honest."

    As for Mississippi State, its offense is still a work in progress.

    The Bulldogs rolled up 556 yards against the Braves, but SEC play will provide a much more difficult challenge.

    "We're getting there," Mullen said. "I think we've had two totally different styles of games in our first two games. So we've got to see how this one plays out."