Mississippi State tries to salvage the present while Auburn looks ahead
Mississippi State’s athletic director is now Auburn’s athletic director.
So Mississippi State has an interim athletic director.
Auburn’s head coach was fired this week, so the Tigers have an interim head coach.
That means State head coach Mike Leach is the 1 sign of stability at the top as the Bulldogs and Tigers prepare to meet Saturday night at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville.
Former State AD John Cohen starts his new job by trying to figure out who’s going to be Auburn’s new head coach while interim coach Cadillac Williams leads the Tigers against the Bulldogs and through the rest of the season.
Meanwhile, the State administration moves forward with compliance director Bracky Brett serving as interim AD while university president Mark Keenum launches a nationwide search for a new full-time AD.
While all these other people are focused on the long term, Leach is focused on trying to salvage this Bulldogs season, beginning with Cohen’s new school.
Auburn decided that its season — which features a 3-5 overall record and a 1-4 league mark that has it tied with Texas A&M for last place in the SEC West — is not salvageable, or at least whatever might be salvageable (beating State, bowl eligibility, Iron Bowl respectability) wasn’t likely to be salvaged as long as Bryan Harsin remained as head coach.
But State’s season isn’t as hopeless as the Tigers’ season, though it is heading in the wrong direction as Leach’s group emerges from an open date.
The Bulldogs are 5-3 overall and 2-3 in the SEC, and they are searching for offensive answers after losses of 27-17 at Kentucky and 30-6 at Alabama.
It was 4 weeks ago when State last played in Davis Wade Stadium and whipped Arkansas a week after whipping Texas A&M to get to 2-1 in the SEC.
But quarterback Will Rogers and the offense suddenly stopped clicking. Rogers went on the road, seemingly destined to return as the holder of a new school record for career touchdown passes.
He had thrown 3 touchdown passes against both Arkansas and Texas A&M, which followed a record-tying, 6-touchdown performance against Bowling Green.
That left Rogers 1 touchdown pass shy of Dak Prescott’s career record of 70. Rogers tied Prescott with a touchdown pass midway through the 3rd quarter against Kentucky but hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass since.
The Bulldogs’ only other touchdown in that game came on an interception return by Emmanuel Forbes.
State appeared headed for a shutout in the loss at Bama until Joquavious Marks ran 1 yard for a score as time expired.
So Rogers is stuck at 70, and the Bulldogs are stuck in a 2-game losing streak. Presumably, Rogers will find a way to break the tie with Prescott sometime during the game against Auburn. Presumably, somewhere along the way he’ll pass for the 107 yards he needs to break Prescott’s career record for passing yards (9,376).
It wouldn’t be surprising if Rogers is able to pass Prescott in both categories by the end of the 1st quarter, but that’s assuming he and the passing game regain a form resembling what they showed during their last 3-game homestand to start this 3-game homestand — and not the form they showed in Lexington and Tuscaloosa.
State is now 16-16 in Leach’s 3 seasons and could use a turnaround this season resembling the turnaround it had during the game the last time it played Auburn.
It was Nov. 13 last season, and the Tigers rolled to a 28-3 lead. But the Bulldogs scored 40 straight points and came away with a 43-36 victory at Auburn in the largest comeback in State history.
But this season the Bulldogs have tended to do worse as time goes along.
They have generally started fast, outscoring their opponents 66-14 in the 1st quarter. But the margin has been 62-50 in the 2nd quarter, 51-44 in the 3rd quarter and 75-75 in the 4th.
Though they scored the final points in the loss to Alabama, in their other 2 losses they led LSU 13-0 before being outscored 31-3 and led Kentucky 10-6 before being outscored 21-7.
So while others are focused on the future, Leach and his team have their hands full with the present.