STARKVILLE — The Auburn football team has been in disarray for the better part of a year.
The Tigers are 3-5 this season and 1-4 in Southeastern Conference play. They fired head coach Bryan Harsin on Monday. They’ve lost four games in a row.
Mississippi State knows none of that matters.
“It’s still Auburn,” inside receivers coach Drew Hollingshead said Wednesday. “They’ve still got really good players.”
The Bulldogs saw that last year on The Plains.
Auburn took a 28-3 lead over Mississippi State at Jordan-Hare Stadium. For most teams, the game would have been over.
MSU proved it wasn’t most teams.
“The guys, they just kept their resolve and kept battling, kept fighting, and we inched our way back into it and ended up on the positive end of it,” defensive line coach Jeff Phelps said.
The Bulldogs pulled off the largest comeback in program history, a 43-34 win that sent Auburn — ranked in the top 25 before the game — into a tailspin. The Tigers lost their next three games, closing the season on a five-game losing skid and ending up with a 6-7 record.
Auburn won three of its first four games in 2022, including an overtime win over Missouri in its SEC opener, but the wheels soon came off.
The Tigers haven’t won since Sept. 24. They’ve lost to LSU, Georgia, Ole Miss and Arkansas in consecutive games. Harsin was fired two days after the loss to the Razorbacks.
Hollingshead said the Bulldogs aren’t preparing to face a rudderless team tied for last place in the SEC West, though.
“We’re going to prepare just like we would if they were 9-0 right now,” he said.
Not even a coaching change — running backs coach Carnell “Cadillac” Williams was named the interim head coach after Harsin’s ouster — will interrupt Mississippi State’s plans.
Both head coach Mike Leach on Monday and cornerbacks coach Darcel McBath on Wednesday said Auburn won’t have time to overhaul its offense by Saturday’s game.
“You look at it, they’re not going to be able to put in a whole lot more new,” McBath said. “They’ll probably get better at the things they’ve been doing. You might see a few adjustments here or there, the flavor of whoever’s calling the plays, but overall I think they’re going to be who they are.”
So who is Auburn? The Tigers are a run-first team, rushing 302 times this season against 230 passing attempts. By comparison, Mississippi State has thrown the ball 386 times and rushed 187 times in its pass-happy Air Raid scheme.
Running back Tank Bigsby is sixth in the SEC in rushing, and quarterback Robby Ashford is a true dual threat — something MSU has struggled to defend in games against LSU and Arkansas.
“They’re a good running team,” Phelps said. “Their quarterback can run. Their tailbacks can run. They’ve got a big offensive line up front. You’ve got to be able to stop the run. If you can’t stop the run, it’s going to be a long day.”
Saturday’s game starts what Mississippi State wide receiver Austin Williams termed a “four-game season” as the Bulldogs enter the home stretch.
After hosting Auburn, MSU will welcome No. 1 Georgia to Davis Wade Stadium at 6 p.m. Nov. 12.
But the Bulldogs aren’t going to overlook the Tigers, no matter their struggles.
“There’s a feeling of, ‘If we don’t play our best and play up to our standard, they’re going to come in here and beat us,’” Hollingshead said.
Mississippi State isn’t willing to let that happen.
The Bulldogs haven’t won since Oct. 8 against Arkansas, losing back-to-back games as well as their top-25 ranking over the next two weeks in trips to Lexington and Tuscaloosa.
Now, MSU is back at home, where it has played so well. The Bulldogs are 4-0 at Davis Wade this season, outscoring opponents 176-58 there.
Mississippi State has a chance to continue Auburn’s misery and keep alive hope for a special season in Starkville.
That is, if the Bulldogs are ready to bounce back.
“Coming off those two losses, you’ve got to have some fire,” linebacker Nathaniel Watson said.
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.
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