The last time Mike Leach and Gus Malzahn squared off, Malzahn had just earned the top spot of Auburn’s Head Coach and Mike Leach was leading the charge at Washington State. The Tigers defeated Washington State 31-24 in 2013 and went on to win the National Championship later that year.
Now, seven years later, both are fighting their way through the SEC. Malzahn still holds down the job at Auburn, putting together a 5-4 season so far. On the other side, Leach in his first year with the Bulldogs started off strong with a win over LSU but has struggled with player opt-outs and COVID-19 outbreaks since. Mississippi State sits at 2-6 and faces a must-win game against Auburn to become bowl eligible.
Saturday’s matchup was originally scheduled for Nov. 14. Due to COVID-19 issues within the Mississippi State program, the game was postponed.
Getting Back on Top:
The Tigers are rolling into Starkville with a two-game losing skid. Granted the losses came from two top-ten teams in Alabama and Texas A&M. Those two of the four losses on Auburn’s schedule come from those two teams who control the College Football Playoff rankings with Alabama at the top spot and Texas A&M at No. 5.
Initially ranked in the Top 10, the Tigers are trying to round out their season on top after struggling through the All-SEC slate. A lot of pressure has been mounting on the shoulders of Malzahn as the season has evolved week-by-week. The expectation to win championships is ever-present across the conference, but especially in Auburn. Saturday’s game will be Malzahn’s 100th game as the Head Coach of the Tigers.
The Tigers will face freshman quarterback Will Rodgers who has come in mid-season for the Bulldogs. Rogers has thrown 167 consecutive passes without an interception. This holds the second-longest streak in the SEC and the sixth-longest in the FBS. The freshman accumulated 1,000 passing yards and zero interceptions through the month of November. Rogers made his debut in maroon and white in October against Kentucky.
Malzahn and the Tigers will attempt to keep these stats rolling for Rogers. According to him, the best way to go about that is to keep him uncomfortable in the pocket.
” I think it is disrupting what they want to do and make the quarterback uncomfortable,” Malzahn said.
“He has improved, I think he was already familiar with the system and you can tell that,” he said of Rogers. “Probably the biggest thing that stands out is that he is efficient, he is patient and he has been protecting the football.”
Bulldogs Looking for One More:
A thinning roster, a freshman quarterback, and a first-year head coach against an All-SEC schedule would be challenging for most any program across the country. One more win would grant the Bulldogs bowl eligibility and some positivity amongst the gauntlet of games and struggles for the program.
But first, the ‘Dawgs must get past Auburn and quarterback Bo Nix. A year ago, Nix put on his best performance to date against Mississippi State on the Plains. The Tigers plan to run the ball and utilize Nix in the run game as well as star freshman running back Tank Bigsby. Bigsby has accumulated 642 rushing yards in his first season at Auburn.
Leach praised Nix’s ability to be competitive both in the passing and rushing game.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. on Saturday night in Starkville.