Mississippi State set to face Auburn and new QB White
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) The most accomplished starting quarterback in the Southeastern Conference will match up with the newest member of that group.
Both Mississippi State's Dak Prescott and Auburn's newly anointed Sean White will have similar goals Saturday night at Jordan-Hare Stadium: Trying to help their teams rebound from losses to LSU and make their way back into Western Division contention.
The big difference is White has never played a college snap while Prescott has passed for 6,382 career yards.
''It doesn't change our game plan at all, really,'' Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen said. ''I haven't seen the other guy (White) play. I don't know how it affects them, but for us we've just got to go out there and play hard and it's not going to change anything we do.''
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn is starting the redshirt freshman over Jeremy Johnson, who was benched after throwing six interceptions through three games and never getting a normally prolific offense in gear.
The Tigers are hoping the move will spark a resurgence after tumbling from a No. 6 ranking following a lopsided loss to No. 8 LSU, but they've also got significant defensive deficiencies.
They'll find out quickly if the QB switch paid off, and if it's permanent.
''We're thinking about nothing but Mississippi State,'' Malzahn said. ''We're putting the first three games in the rearview mirror and it's over. All we're thinking about is Mississippi State and that's the way we're going to operate.''
Both teams want to avoid being left in the rearview mirror in the SEC West race. Auburn (2-1, 0-1) was a popular pick to win the deep division while the Bulldogs (2-1, 0-1) were picked last.
Now, they're in a similar position.
Mississippi State regrouped from a 21-19 loss to LSU with a rout of FCS Northwestern State, setting a school record with 647 total yards.
''We both, in conference play, are back-against-the-wall and have to come out to fight and ready to play,'' Mullen said.
Here are some things to watch in this game:
WHITE'S DEBUT: The Bulldogs didn't have much film to study of the Tigers' new quarterback, beyond high school and Auburn's spring game. He competed with Johnson for the starting job during the spring, but didn't get in even when the LSU game was out of hand.
NO FOURNETTE: Both defenses got steamrolled by LSU tailback Leonard Fournette, and will face a different challenge in this game. Malzahn said Prescott is ''like another running back.'' The Tigers might get a physical reprieve after several defenders had embarrassing whiffs on Fournette, since the Bulldogs have been more of a passing team. Mississippi State's defense faces an inconsistent running game after Peyton Barber had only seven carries against LSU.
PRESCOTT'S SUCCESS: Auburn has had no answer for the Bulldogs quarterback. He has racked up 713 yards in total offense in the past two meetings, passing for 200-plus yards and topping 100 rushing yards both times. Prescott will face a defense with a vulnerable secondary and a poor recent track record against mobile quarterbacks.
REPLACI NG LAWSON: The Tigers will be without standout defensive end Carl Lawson (hip) for the foreseeable future. Maurice Swain and Raashed Kennion have logged starts in his stead, but top recruit Byron Cowart could be in line for a bigger role, too.
PROTECTING THE BALL: Both teams have had some trouble holding onto the ball. Mississippi State has lost a league-high four fumbles while Auburn has committed eight turnovers, matching Vanderbilt for most in the league.
FINISHING GAMES: The Bulldogs have closed games strong so far, outscoring opponents 34-3 in the fourth quarter. Auburn has been outscored 31-21 in the final 15 minutes.