By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. - The players that have been through it know what to expect. Those who haven't will learn quickly. So said first-year Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn on Tuesday.
After wins over Washington State and Arkansas State, the stakes will go up Saturday when the Tigers (2-0) play Mississippi State (1-1) in their Southeastern Conference opener at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Kickoff time on ESPN2 is set for 6 p.m.
Malzahn said he saw a change in Sunday's practice.
"I think so, the older players especially," Malzahn said Tuesday. "A lot of the younger players are still trying to figure out what's going on. I like to think our attention to detail on Sunday was better. It's a different season now. The older guys understand that."
What they understand, Malzahn said, is that the intensity and the level of competition will leap to another level when Mississippi State comes to town.
"You have to be real with your players," Malzahn said. "Our more experienced guys understand that. We play in the best league in college football. Anytime you play an opponent you have to have your best, and we understand that."
Auburn has not won an SEC game since beating Ole Miss 41-23 on Oct. 29, 2011. Quarterback Clint Moseley threw four touchdown passes. Malzahn was Auburn's offensive coordinator. Since that day, Auburn has lost 10 consecutive SEC games, including all eight last season after Malzahn left to become the head coach at Arkansas State. One of those was a 28-10 loss at Mississippi State in which the Tigers had five turnovers on three interceptions and two fumbles.
On Saturday, that won't matter, Malzahn said.
"No, no," he said. "We haven't even thought about it. I've told those guys I'm not worried about last year. It's a new year and a new season. We understand that in the SEC we are going to have to play well to win. We've not talked about last year."
Mississippi State opened its season with a 21-3 loss to Oklahoma State in Dallas. Last Saturday, the Bulldogs crushed FCS foe Alcorn State 51-7 without senior quarterback Tyler Russell, who suffered a concussion against Oklahoma State. Russell is expected to be ready to start against Auburn. Bulldog head coach Dan Mullen says dual threat backup Dak Prescott also could play.
Russell moved into Mississippi State's starting lineup during the 2011 season and is considered an NFL draft prospect.
"We are very impressed with him," Malzahn said. "He's a big guy that can throw the football. They have the majority of their offensive line back, and they are very good at what they do schematically.
"Defensively, it looks like the same Mississippi State teams we've played the last three or four years. They are long, they are fast and they play very physical. They make you earn it and play very sound football. We have our work cut out for us. It should be a good one."
More highlights from Malzahn's weekly press conference:
* Senior defensive end Dee Ford and junior star Justin Garrett practiced Monday and were expected to practice again today. Malzahn did not say whether either would play. Ford (knee) and Garrett (foot) missed the first two games with injuries.
* Malzahn on quarterback Nick Marshall: "Nick improved from Week 1 to Week 2, and we expected him, to. He executed that deep ball extremely well and he was more comfortable. He did make some mistakes, but at the same time there were some mistakes around him that made his mistakes look a little worse than they probably were. We have to get better as a whole offense to help him as he grows in this offense.
* Junior linebacker Kris Frost will have to sit out the first half after being ejected from last Saturday's game against Arkansas State for targeting. There is no appeal available beyond the replay official at the stadium.