Auburn, Mississippi State look to pick up pieces
The season looked promising for both Auburn and Mississippi State when Southeastern Conference play got underway in late September.
The Tigers were ranked No. 11 in the preseason and climbed to No. 7 after beating then-No. 23 Kentucky in their opener.
The Bulldogs began the season unranked but soared to No. 16 after beating defending national champion LSU 44-34 on the road in their season opener.
Auburn and Mississippi State can take their frustrations out on each other Saturday night when they square off in Starkville, Miss.
The Tigers (5-4, 5-4 SEC) have lost consecutive games to No. 1 Alabama and No. 5 Texas A&M, with a goal of trying to salvage a winning record in their regular-season finale.
“Learning how to go through adversity is just part of the process,” Auburn quarterback Bo Nix said. “It’s not like we have a bad team by any means. All you can do is just move forward, make sure you finish the season how you’d like and not just let the whole season go to waste.”
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn tried to put the season in perspective after Tigers allowed 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter of a 31-20 loss to Texas A&M in the home finale last Saturday.
He suggested a four-loss season in a 10-game SEC schedule wouldn’t look as bad as a four-loss season in a normal schedule featuring eight SEC games and four nonconference games.
Fans on social media were critical of what they perceived as a lowering of standards at Auburn.
Malzahn tried to clarify what he meant about a season in which three of the Tigers’ losses have come against teams that were ranked in the top five at the time of the defeats.
“I want to make sure it’s very clear: Our expectations are to win championships here at Auburn,” Malzahn said.
The Bulldogs are just 2-6 overall and in the SEC, and even that opening victory doesn’t seem as impressive as it once did because LSU has stumbled all season. With just two games remaining, Mississippi State can’t get to .500 in coach Mike Leach’s first season.
Mississippi State has been short-handed in its past two games because of COVID-19 issues and it took a pair of 31-24 defeats, to then-No. 13 Georgia and in-state rival Mississippi.
“We’ve got kind of a thin squad,” Leach said. “You march into (Georgia) with 43 scholarship guys, and here we go. But we got better as a team. I’m disappointed we didn’t win, and it was there. We could have won that. I think we should have won it. I was really proud of the effort of our guys, probably as proud as I’ve been of any team I’ve ever coached.”
Stanford transfer K.J. Costello passed for an SEC-record 623 yards against LSU, but he has since been replaced by freshman Will Rogers.
“I think (Rogers) got progressively better,” Leach said. “I think he’s got to keep improving. I do think he’s ahead of schedule. I think he’s better than I would have expected. I think he’s played quite courageous, quite well for a guy his age.”
–Field Level Media