Auburn Faces Mississippi State in SEC Opener
Josh Bynes

Josh Bynes

Sept. 8, 2010

Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton was named the SEC's offensive player of the week for his impressive debut with the Tigers. Now, he hopes his performance translates to conference play.

The 21st-ranked Tigers open their SEC slate on Thursday night at Mississippi State, which hopes to prevent a fifth consecutive Auburn victory in Starkville.

Newton arrived at Auburn this season after starting his career with Florida, then spending the 2009 season leading Blinn College to the junior college national championship.

He didn't waste any time sparking the Tigers (1-0) to victory, throwing for 186 yards and three touchdowns and adding 171 rushing yards and two scores in a 52-26 win over Arkansas State on Saturday.

"I don't know if I have seen an individual performance better than Cam Newton's. He is the best player I have ever seen live," Arkansas State coach Steve Roberts. "He made a huge difference in the ball game tonight - he is hard to bring down."

Second-year Auburn coach Gene Chizik was also pleased with his new quarterback, who leads an offense that ranked 16th nationally in 2009 but lost quarterback Chris Todd and top rusher Ben Tate.

"He did some nice things when maybe something wasn't there," Chizik said of Newton. "He turned some bad plays into good ones."

Auburn went 8-5 last year, including a win over Northwestern in the Outback Bowl, but the team is hoping to improve on a 3-5 record in conference play - its second straight losing SEC campaign.

The Tigers, however, have won eight of nine meetings with Mississippi State, including four straight on the road.

Their most lopsided SEC win last year was a 49-24 victory over the Bulldogs on Sept. 12. Mississippi State had few answers for Auburn's running game, which totaled five touchdowns and 390 yards - matching its most since totaling 405 yards on the ground against the Bulldogs on Oct. 18, 2003.

Coming off back-to-back losing seasons, Mississippi State (1-0) held Memphis to 41 rushing yards to open with a 49-7 win Saturday.

The Bulldogs' passing game keyed the victory, totaling 372 yards and five touchdowns. Although junior Chris Relf started at quarterback, freshman Tyler Russell played most of the game, going 13 of 16 for 256 yards and four touchdowns - two each to sophomores Chad Bumphis and Brandon Heavens.

"There were a lot of guys that were getting their first action out there today, and they responded," Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. "It is great to get that under their belt and get them some confidence going into the SEC schedule.

"That is a whole different ballgame when you start conference play, especially with a solid opponent," Mullen added. "I am expecting a big time atmosphere here Thursday night."

Auburn hasn't played well on the road well the last two years, losing seven of eight since a bizarre 3-2 win at Mississippi State on Sept. 13, 2008. The Tigers hope their defense plays like it did in that game, when it held the Bulldogs to 116 total yards.

The unit wasn't as sharp Saturday, allowing Arkansas State to rack up 323 passing yards.

"We have to make better tackles, especially in the open field," linebacker Josh Bynes said. "(It) was the first game, and I am not going to say it was first-game jitters, but all I can say is we have some things we need to work on."

No. 21 Tigers, Bulldogs feature potent offenses

(AP) -- In one of the ugliest games in recent college football history, Auburn and Mississippi State punted, fumbled and stumbled their way to a 3-2 finish in 2008 that made both schools cringe.

Auburn won -- on the scoreboard.

But really, there were no winners after a game that barely had more first downs (20) than punts (18). It was obvious both teams had serious issues.

Two years later, much has changed. Both programs have new coaches: Gene Chizik replaced Tommy Tuberville at Auburn while Dan Mullen took over for Sylvester Croom at Mississippi State.

Auburn left tackle Lee Ziemba, who was a sophomore during that 2008 game, joked that the final score looked more like soccer result from this summer's World Cup.

"It was a different time and place," Ziemba said. "It's obviously not likely to happen again this week."

Now 21st-ranked Auburn (1-0) and Mississippi State (1-0) have revamped offenses going into Thursday's Southeastern Conference opener for both schools at Scott Field.

The Tigers easily handled Arkansas State 52-26 in last week while the Bulldogs smashed Memphis 49-7.

Auburn's offense is led by quarterback Cameron Newton, a junior college transfer who was sensational during his first game. He accounted for 357 yards of total offense and five touchdowns against Arkansas State, living up to the hype that made him one of the most sought after recruits in the country.

But he's not the only player the Bulldogs will worry about.

Freshman Michael Dyer rushed for 95 yards and a touchdown against Arkansas State. Running backs Onterio McCalebb and Mario Fannin, along with receivers Darvin Adams and Terrell Zachery, were all important parts of the offense last season.

"A lot of people pick them as the sleeper pick to win the SEC West and you can see why," Mullen said. "They're a talented team. When you have that type of experience it can go a long way. They have an explosive offense."

But Mississippi State will counter with some talent of its own. The Bulldogs will play two quarterbacks -- junior Chris Relf and freshman Tyler Russell -- who were both very good in the season opener.

Relf is just as dangerous running as he is throwing, while Russell is more of a true pocket passer. Russell threw for 256 yards and tied a school record with four touchdown passes against Memphis.

The Bulldogs have plenty of playmakers around the quarterbacks as well. Receivers Chad Bumphis and Brandon Heavens each scored two touchdowns in the opener. They used four running backs -- Vick Ballard, Robert Elliott, LaDarius Perkins and Adrian Marcus -- extensively during the romp over Memphis.

Chizik said Mississippi State's confidence and execution is much better than a year ago, and Mullen's spread scheme will pose problems if his team isn't disciplined.

"It's not your conventional two-back, I-back conventional run-play stuff," Chizik said. "It gives you a lot of problems. If you're not in the right spots or you have one guy out of position with their run game, it's going to give you some fits."

Such offensive innovation was rare for both programs two seasons ago. But Ziemba said the Southeastern Conference has changed since then, and the wide open offense is necessary to compete.

"The past couple of years in the SEC, you've seen higher scoring games than you usually see," Ziemba said. "The infrastructure has changed a little bit. People have gone into more spread-type offenses."