Following an up-an-down start to the season, the bye week arrived at a good time for the Mississippi State football team.
As much as the Bulldogs (2-2, 1-1 SEC) were ready to reset, Mullen and his team are excited about the challenges ahead. The first task is a home game against Auburn, which is facing its first road game of the season.
The budding rivalry between the teams always seems to mark a turning point in the season.
“We’re excited to get back into game week and a home game in conference. It’s a big game for us being 1-1 in conference play against a really good Auburn team,” MSU head coach Dan Mullen said. “They’re an excellent football team and we’re going to have to come out and play at a high level in all three phases.”
The strength of the Tiger team this year lies on the defense under first-year coordinator Kevin Steele. The unit has yet to give up more than two touchdowns against a tough stretch of the schedule that includes Clemson, Texas A&M and LSU.
With a strong defensive line and secondary, there are very few holes to expose.
“They’ve got a great defensive front. (Montravius Adams) would have easily been a first-round pick last year and he’s back. When you’re able to get a guy like that back he sets the tone,” Mullen said. “A couple of guys are the No. 1 recruit in the country on the defensive line. They’ve got some great corners on the edge that shuts you down.”
Offensively, Mullen has been impressed with starting quarterback Sean White, who made his first career start in the Bulldogs' win on The Plains a year ago. The Tigers will also throw out former East Mississippi Community College quarterback John Franklin III as a change of pace, but they’ve rallied around White’s work.
“You watch game one and they rotated all three quarterbacks. It looks like they’ve settled on Sean and that gives him some confidence on the field,” Mullen said. “He manages that offense and they’re going to build around his strengths. He’s a good decision maker, an accurate passer and a very willing runner.”
The two teams will converge at Davis Wade Stadium on Saturday at 11 a.m. The game will be broadcasted on SEC Network.
Coleman, Jiles expected back
For the first time this season, senior viper Will Coleman and senior cornerback Cedric Jiles could return this week against the Tigers.
Coleman injured his back in the first practice of fall camp this year and Jiles broke his right arm two weeks before the season. The loss of both created some depth issues on the defensive side, but Mullen believes that their veteran leadership has been missed the most.
“It helps us because they’re some experience players and obviously it’s been a big miss,” Mullen said. “They haven’t played in quite a while so a lot of their focus is going to be on getting into game shape and getting ready to start playing again.”
Jiles and fellow senior corner Tolando Cleveland both went down with injuries before the season as Cleveland’s torn ACL ended his chances of returning. For Jiles, it was the fourth major injury of his career as a Bulldog having missed two seasons.
Having a chance to come back this season was much different for the Clinton native and he’s motivated to return this week.
“I think the one thing with Ced is he’s had so many injuries throughout his career that it’s extremely frustrating,” Mullen said. “I think the fact that this wasn’t going to be a season-long injury really motivated him to get back and get on the field. Even if it’s in a limited role, he’ll be able to play for us this weekend.”
Who: Mississippi State vs. Auburn
When: 11 a.m., Saturday
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 1490 AM, 1640 AM