Who: Mississippi State Bulldogs (1-1) at Auburn Tigers (2-0)
When: 6:00 p.m. CT (ESPN2)
Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Alabama
Tickets: Auburn Tigers football tickets are available here.
All-Time Series Record: Auburn leads 60-24-2
Most Recent Meeting: Mississippi State 28, Auburn 10 (2012)
It’s been a turbulent week in college football, from a potentially explosive Yahoo! Sports story regarding former Alabama offensive lineman DJ Fluker to yet another Thayer Evans failure in a desperate attempt to bring down Oklahoma State’s football program (Of course, watching Thayer crash and burn in yet another high-profile story brings anyone who supports Auburn a justified sense of joy).
But I have a novel idea: let’s talk about some football for a change.
Gus Malzahn’s first two games at Auburn have created a lot of excitement among Auburn fans, as the Tigers have shown drastic improvement on both sides of the ball in wins over Washington State and Arkansas State.
Now, the Tigers face their toughest challenge yet in the Mississippi State Bulldogs, who are desperate to get off to a good start in the SEC. If the Bulldogs lose, a bowl this season will be unlikely, given their 21-3 loss to Oklahoma State in week one. This could be the biggest game of Dan Mullen’s career so far, so he’d best have his guys ready to face off with Auburn’s ferocious offense and clutch defense.
Key for Auburn: Don’t bend so much on defense. The Tigers have allowed 443 yards of offense per game in their first two games, yet they’ve given up just 16.5 points (24 against Wazzu and 9 against Arkansas State). This is because Auburn’s defense is consistently driven on, but when they are pushed back into their own territory, they stand strong. Arkansas State made 7 trips inside the Auburn 40-yard line last week and the results were three field goals, three fourth down failures and a punt. The Tigers would be best served not to be driven on so much against Mississippi State, a team with more talent than Arkansas State and Washington State. Of course, Mississippi State’s offense has already showed their ability to stall on drives, gaining nearly 350 yards against Oklahoma State in the season opener but only finishing with a single field goal to show for it.
Key for Mississippi State: Sell out on the run. Auburn’s offense has been mainly reliant on the ground game thus far. Of the 431 yards of offense per game Auburn averages so far, 298 of those yards are on the ground. Nick Marshall is still developing and becoming more comfortable in the offense. Mississippi State was scared of the pass against Oklahoma State in week one and gave up 286 rushing yards. To stop an Auburn rushing attack that features 3 of the SEC’s top 15 rushers in Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant, the Bulldogs will have to sell out on the run and load the box at all times. If Nick Marshall beats them through the air, then that’s just too bad.
Auburn player to watch: Jake Holland. The beleaguered senior linebacker is good at lining up the defense, but his actual playing abilities have been criticized for a few years by Tigers fans. Now, he’ll have to step up more than ever in the first half of this weekend’s game, due to Kris Frost’s ejection against Arkansas State. In the second half, Frost will see the field, but in the opening 30 minutes, Holland will have to step up and prove to everyone that he belongs on the field.
Mississippi State players to watch: Dak Prescott. Due to Tyler Russell’s injury against Oklahoma State, two QBs might see the field on Saturday night for the Bulldogs. Russell is more of a traditional pocket passer and Dak Prescott is a mobile threat. Auburn’s had issues this season containing scrambling quarterbacks, and Prescott fits that mold, as his first start against Alcorn State resulted in 2 TD passes and a TD run. Russell should start and it’s not certain how much Prescott will see the field, but he could be a difference maker if Russell is ineffective against an improved Auburn defense.
Auburn vs. Mississippi State edges:
Running Back: Auburn (MSU has Ladarius Perkins, but Auburn has a dynamic trio.)
Wide Receiver: Auburn
Tight End/H-Back: Auburn
Offensive Line: Auburn
Defensive Line: Auburn
Linebackers: Mississippi State
Safeties: Mississippi State
Interesting facts: Auburn has beaten Mississippi State in 10 of the last 12 meetings by an average score of 29-15…. Dan Mullen has won one game against Auburn in his past six tries (0-2 as Florida’s OC, 1-3 as MSU head coach)…. Auburn is 27-6 against Mississippi State at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Tigers have won two straight against Dan Mullen’s Bulldogs on the Plains, scoring 49 points in 2009 and 41 points in 2011…. Mississippi State has thrown for over 200 yards in 13 of the last 14 games, a bad omen for an Auburn defense giving up 308 passing yards per game thus far…. Auburn’s defense has not allowed a touchdown on 19 straight possessions spanning 6 quarters, last giving up a touchdown in the second quarter of the season opener….. Auburn has not won an SEC game since October 29th, 2011, a 41-23 win over Ole Miss. Mississippi State has only won one of their past 6 games against FBS teams after a 7-0 start to the 2011 season. Something’s gotta give….
A Special Week: This season marks the five-year anniversary of the 2008 Auburn-Mississippi State game, the infamous game in which Auburn won by a score of 3-2. The teams combined for four turnovers and 20 first downs. Mississippi State’s offense was especially abysmal, rolling up a grand total of 116 yards (78 passing, 38 rushing) and 6 first downs. The teams combined to go 9-15. Anyone who watched that game will never get those three hours back. Happy 5th anniversary, worst football game ever!
Prediction: Mississippi State is likely the best team Auburn’s faced yet, but these Tigers are improving with every game, so the Bulldogs will have their hands full. Mississippi State will make some plays on both sides of the ball and present Auburn with a huge challenge, but in the second half, Auburn’s pace will be just too much for the Bulldogs. Nick Marshall plays as more of a game-manager but still throws a touchdown pass, Cameron Artis-Payne has a nice night and Auburn wins.
Auburn Tigers 28, Mississippi State Bulldogs 20
Other SEC Predictions:
#1 Alabama 35, #6 Texas A&M 27 (This game is a toss-up. I’ll go with Nick Saban in a toss-up, even in Aggieland.)
#2 Oregon 53, Tennessee 21 (Vols are improved, but come on… they’re not going to beat Oregon in Eugene.)
#7 Louisville 41, Kentucky 17 (Kentucky’s improved, but not enough to even sniff a win here, even at home.)
#8 LSU 52, Kent State 14 (Will KSU’s Dri Archer play? Doesn’t matter, actually. LSU wins easily.)
#13 South Carolina 27, Vanderbilt 21 (Carolina rebounds with a nice home win over the ‘Dores.)
#25 Ole Miss 45, Texas 38 (It’ll be a shootout in DKR, but I don’t trust the Horns to stop the explosive Rebs.)
Arkansas 35, Southern Miss 17 (Arkansas barely survived Samford last week, so put nothing past BERT.)
Other notable games:
#24 TCU 34, Texas Tech 31 (OT) (I like what TTU’s doing, but this TCU team is too talented to be 1-2.)
#16 UCLA 41, #23 Nebraska 34 (Brett Hundley vs. Taylor Martinez? Fans of offense say, “Yes, please!”)
#4 Ohio State 49, California 35 (Braxton or no Braxton, OSU will have their hands full against the pass-happy Bears.)
Arizona State 29, #20 Wisconsin 28 (A huge showdown in the desert will be won by the Sun Devils at home.)
#19 Washington 33, Illinois 24 (The Illini have been off to a good start, but UDubb’s the best team they’ve faced.)
Fresno State 55, Colorado 42 (Just look at that score. Look at it. LOOK AT IT.)
Upset Alert! UL-Monroe 31, Wake Forest 24 (I’m 2-0 in my upset picks so far this season, so you can take this upset to the bank. Though, is Wake Forest losing a game ever considered an upset?)