Blog – Mullen, Malzahn talk No. 2 vs. No. 3 matchup in Starkville

Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen and Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn spoke to the media Wednesday during the Southeastern Conference teleconference.

No. 3 Mississippi State (5-0, 2-0) host No. 2 Auburn (5-0, 2-0) this Saturday. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. on CBS.

Here are Mullen’s highlights –

Opening statement:

“Our guys are fired up. We’ve had a couple good days of practice so far. We need to keep that focus and keep that attention. I think our guys have done a great job of that and understand all the work that we still have ahead of us and what a huge challenge it is playing Auburn, the No. 2 and I think a lot of people view as the No. 1 team in the country. The defending conference champion. That’s a huge challenge for us and a huge challenge for our program. I think our guys are really fired up and excited about the game this weekend.”

“Someone was looking it up and telling me, with a matchup of this highly ranked teams can be the biggest game ever in the state of Mississippi, when you combine the two teams’ rankings. That’s pretty exciting for us, but our guys understand that we we have a long to go and a great challenge ahead of us.”

How have your guys handled success:

“We really haven’t accomplished all that much. We’re only 2-0 in the SEC. I think we wanted to win a lot more than that in the SEC this year than those two games. I think our guys really understand that focus. It’s kind of cool and it’s kind of neat, but it really has nothing to do with what our goal of winning the SEC West. That has always been our focus. To do that, you have to win your home games, you have to beat the defending champion. There is a lot at stake this weekend for us to continue down the path of the goals we want to achieve.”

Any players in particular that deserve some credit for where the team is now:

“There’s an awful lot. When I got here, guys bought in right from the beginning. In our fist year, our guys just decided they wanted to work hard, with Jamar Chaney, Anthony Dixon and that whole first senior class.”

“That next year had a bunch of guys with Pernell McPhee, K.J. Wright and Derek Sherrod, those types of players, that all really bought in. Chris White, guys that really bought into work ethic. You’ve got to come to work every single day.”

“I think what was really fortunate for us, guys that were the hardest working guys on our team, always kind of ended up being our star players. Whether it was Charles Mitchell, Vick Ballard, who really weren’t household names, but were hard workers that became successful. Fletcher Cox was one of the hardest, John Banks, even though they became big NFL players and All-Americans, they were some of the hardest working guys in the offseason and every single day of practice.”

“I think that foundation was a lot of young players, that saw, if you’re willing to buy in 100 percent, if you’re willing to work hard, not only is the team going to have success, but I’m going to have the opportunity to have individual success as well. All of those guys have really helped build the program to where it is today.”

Do you think how last season might have unfolded differently with last year’s game:

“I’m sure for both teams it would have changed a lot of the outcome last year. I think with their team winning that game, built confidence throughout the rest of the season. Our guys, it took a couple of weeks to get it back. You never know. The reality is maybe you’re one play away from winning that game last year.”

What is it about this game making it so close:

“It’s two teams that play each other really hard. It could be style of play and the matchups that just lead it to come down right to the wire. We certainly have keep it exciting every single year.”

Malzahn’s highlights –

Opening statement:

“We had a big win last week at home against a good LSU team. We have been talking about improving each game and getting better. It was probably our most complete performance as far as offense, defense and special teams all playing well together. We are going to need to improve even from that as we face a very good Mississippi State team on the road.”

What have you seen from Josh Robinson:

“He’s a very good player. The fact that the quarterback is such a good runner, they compliment each other so well. They make you try to defend both of them which is a challenge.”

What are you expecting for MSU’s defense:

“I think they’re one of the better defenses in the country and I felt that way last year. When we got done with season and looked back, they were one of the better defenses last year that we faced. They’ve got nine starters back and it’s a huge challenge. They’re big, they’re physical and they know their system. It will be a challenge.”

What do y’all have to do to win:

“I think it’s important that we get off to a fast start offensively and defensively. I know the crowds are going to be into the game. Last week we were able to get off to a fast start and that really helped us momentum wise.”

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