Dan Mullen has played Auburn every season since arriving in Starkville, but he enters this all-important match-up with the Tigers not knowing nearly enough about them.
Auburn has new coordinators on both sides of the ball with Scot Loeffler taking over the offense and Brian VanGorder heading up the defensive side.
On top of that, Mullen doesn’t even think Auburn and head coach Gene Chizik showed everything they have in the playbook in their opening game, a loss to Clemson.
“They probably held a bunch back last week so you don’t know what else they’re going to going to show that they decided not to show last week,” Mullen said. “So there will still be some things we haven’t seen out of them. We’re going to have to be kind of prepared for the unknown in this situation.”
Mullen said he is friends with Loeffler and considers him a great coach. The tough part, according to Mullen, is figuring out what he will do. Loeffler’s background is power-running, pro-style football, but he worked in the spread with Urban Meyer at Florida for several years and is now with an Auburn team that has also run the spread the last few years with the now-departed Gus Malzahn as the offensive coordinator.
“It’s a combination,” Mullen said. “The tough part is seeing where his personality strikes. He’s a guy that’s a good football coach, gonna utilize their personnel to do what they can do well. I don’t know if we’ve got to see the total personality of that offense is, what their focus is, what type of team they’re gonna be. Are they more older Michigan? Are they more, kind of, a little bit spread-based? A little bit of both and what percentage are they?”
Clearly, it’s a tough question for MSU’s coaches to answer, and perhaps, even tougher to prepare for.
On the other side of the ball, the questions are still there. Van Gorder’s arrival to Auburn and college football this season doesn’t give the MSU coaches much to look at after just one game.
In fact, the Bulldogs’ new receivers coach Tim Brewster said he’s gone back and watched film of the Atlanta Falcons, where Van Gorder was the defensive coordinator last year.
For Mullen and his staff, it’s a combination of trying to figure out what Auburn will do and then just making sure their own team is a crisp as it can be.
Every time Mullen has played Auburn, the yardage on both sides of the ball has racked up quickly. For that reason, junior quarterback Tyler Russell will be of extreme importance for MSU come Saturday morning.
“He’s been tested, but this is a much bigger test for him this week than last week’s was,” Mullen said. “I know he wants that role, he wants the game to be put on his shoulders. He wants to be the leader and the guy that’s out there making the plays and leading the offense.”
A few other notes from Mullen:
- Sophomore tight end Malcolm Johnson (pectoral), as expected, will be out for this week’s game, while offensive lineman Templeton Hardy is probable.
- This being Labor Day, there was no class for the players, meaning they spent most of the day together preparing for Auburn.
- Mullen’s review of the offensive line was mixed. He was pleased with right tackle Charles Siddoway, who started the game, but said some of the backups had trouble with communication and chemistry.
- On that subject, Mullen said he wants guards Gabe Jackson and Tobias Smith to play much more against Auburn.
- Mullen said Auburn quarterback Kiehl Frazier had a tendency to focus on two of his receivers against Clemson last week (presumably tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen and receiver Emory Blake). What MSU will have to do, according to Mullen, is take those options away from Frazier and make him go to his third or fourth options.