Saturday’s SEC home opener will be the first opportunity for Gus Malzahn’s football team to defeat an opponent that handed the Tigers one of their five losses last season. Mississippi State comes to Jordan-Hare Stadium unranked, but is still a dangerous opponent.
In what could be an interesting matchup of true freshmen quarterbacks, Auburn’s Bo Nix is not the only rookie signal-caller off to a good start in the SEC.
Garrett Shrader is a 6-4, 220 athletic newcomer who led Mississippi State to a 28-13 victory in his first start last Saturday filling in for injured graduate transfer Tommy Stevens. Whether or not Stevens will play this week is unknown. What is known is that Shrader is a promising replacement. After what he did to the Wildcats, the Tigers might be better off trying to stop Stevens.
Shrader beat the Wildcats with his arm as he hit 17-22 passes for 189 yards and with his feet, gaining 125 yards on 11 carries.
Auburn struggled last year at Starkville to contain the Mississippi State offense that featured a strong running quarterback and effective tailback runs. While the quarterback has changed since last year the threat from that position hasn’t. At tailback Kylin Hill gave the Tigers fits last year and he returns for his junior season as the top rusher in the SEC with his average of 137.8 yards per game.
Auburn has been a good tackling team while starting the season 4-0 and will be tested in this aspect of its play on Saturday night at Jordan-Hare Stadium by Mississippi State’s athletes and its offensive scheme.
If the Tigers perform at the level they showed last Saturday in their win at Texas A&M, you have to like their chances of improving to 2-0 in the SEC. However, there is a very real chance that it won’t be a Saturday evening stroll in the park. The Bulldogs could easily be undefeated and nationally ranked if they had made one less mistake in their self-inflicted, mistake-filled loss to Kansas State.
Despite being ranked seventh nationally this week the Tigers still have plenty of room for improvement, but there is no doubt they have very good wins vs. the Aggies and a talented Oregon team. Malzahn mentioned that the Tulane team the Tigers defeated is good, too, and so far that has been the case.
An interesting note about Oregon is that the Ducks may be a really strong team with its pro prospect quarterback and a defense that is off to an impressive start. Oregon has not allowed a touchdown since Bo Nix threw the game winning pass to Seth Williams with nine seconds left on opening night. Since then Oregon has stopped 42 consecutive drives short of a touchdown. This is the first three-game stretch for the Ducks without allowing a touchdown going back to the 1935 season.
Oregon leads the Pac-12 in six defensive categories so Auburn’s win at AT&T Stadium in Texas is looking better than ever for the Tigers, who are the only team that already has two victories over Top 25 opponents.
Mark Murphy is the editor of Inside the Auburn Tigers magazine and newsletter