Following consecutive losses to two top-five opponents, Auburn travels to Starkville, Mississippi, to take on unranked Mississippi State.
Auburn’s 10th straight SEC opponent is a two-win team with a first-year SEC coach in Mike Leach. Leach's most recent stop was in the PAC-12, running the air raid offense at Washington State.
Leach brought the same system with him to the SEC, and Malzahn said trying to defend it is not easy.
“It’s pretty unique compared to the teams we’ve seen, a very unique and kind of different approach to open up the run,” Malzahn said. “I’m hoping that week, that off week, we had before the game got canceled will give us preparation, too. I’m hoping it will give us a good footing on everything with our plan. They present challenges, no doubt, they are protective of the football and I think that’s been a big factor.”
The air raid offense for Leach has been hit or miss throughout his first year. The Bulldogs' first game of the season was a 44-34 victory over defending national champions LSU in Baton Rouge. Transfer quarterback KJ Costello passed for an SEC record 623 yards and five touchdowns in the Bulldogs' win.
The Bulldogs proceeded to lose the next four games and had two games during that stretch with no offensive scores. The running game for State is the secondary form of offense, as the most rushing yards the team has recorded by one back is 39, against Arkansas.
Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele has coached all over the NCAA before landing with the Tigers in 2016. Malzahn thinks that Steele’s experience against the air raid throughout his career will be invaluable for the team’s success on Saturday.
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“There is nothing like a coordinator who has experience against similar offenses and has gone against it,” Malzahn said. “That definitely helps. I hope that extra week we had will also come into play and give us some help.”
Auburn will take on Mississippi State Saturday at 6:30 p.m. CST with the game airing on SEC Network.
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