Preview: Mississippi State at Auburn


There was a time when Auburn and Auburn fans didn’t give much thought to the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Sure, both schools were founding members when the SEC was born in 1932, but Mississippi State hasn’t been all that competitive against the Tigers over the years. Auburn holds a 59-23-2 all-time lead in the series and is 13-6 against the Bulldogs since SEC expansion in 1992. Frankly, Mississippi State hasn’t been good enough against Auburn — or overall, really; State’s all-time record is 501-538-39 and its only SEC title came in 1941– for Auburn fans to give much of a thought to the school in Starkville.

Well, Mississippi State has given Auburn fans a reason to think about the Bulldogs. After Cecil Newton solicited Mississippi State boosters John Bond and Kenny Rogers in a play-for-pay scheme that fell through, the SEC looked into State and Auburn, the school that quarterback Cam Newton — Cecil’s son — picked over State to play for in 2010. Nothing came of the investigation, but watching Newton put up astronomical numbers and lead Auburn to win after win, someone in the Mississippi State camp became overcome with jealousy and leaked the investigation to the media. Even though NCAA investigators and countless journalists have been unable to find any evidence of Auburn paying for Newton’s services, the Tigers have been dragged through the mud for 10 months, all thanks to some sad soul at Mississippi State.

Who leaked the SEC investigation? Was it Bond or Rogers? Perhaps head football coach Dan Mullen? No one knows for sure, but one thing is certain: Auburn fans won’t have any more problems getting excited for the Mississippi State game. Mississippi State may be small potatoes in the world of SEC football, but Auburn won’t be looking to show the Bulldogs mercy any time soon.


Auburn has had the luxury of a skilled and experienced offensive line for what seems like forever. With four new starters, including a true freshman at center, that’s not the case this season. The inexperience showed against Utah State as the Tigers could only manage 78 rushing yards against Utah State. The Aggies have a skilled defensive front seven that includes linebacker and preseason WAC defensive player of the year Bobby Wagner. The Auburn line held up for the most part on passing plays — quarterback Barrett Trotter was sacked twice and hurried six times — but could not get enough of a push to open up holes for Mike Dyer and Onterio McCalebb in the running game. Mississippi State recorded two sacks and one QB hurry against Memphis, which should be a good sign for Auburn’s passing game. If the receivers can get open against State defensive backs, Trotter could be in for another big passing day. But if Auburn can’t run and State is allowed to stay back and play the pass, the Tigers are going to have a hard time moving the ball.

Despite the poor output in Week 1, Auburn should be cautiously optimistic. Mississippi State allowed 164 rushing yards against Memphis and 141 yards per SEC game last season. The only State defender to be named preseason All-SEC defender was defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, who was a second-teamer. Cox missed the opener against Memphis due to suspension and will be back in the lineup against Auburn. He is certainly talented enough to disrupt Auburn’s running game and get after the quarterback. Given the Tigers’ O-line performance against Utah State, it will be a tall order to stop Cox and Co. from dominating. Auburn’s offensive line will be challenged, but it should be able to muster up enough physical play to give Dyer and McCalebb some space to run. That will keep the Bulldog D honest enough to allow Trotter to spread the ball around to his receivers. It might not be consistent all afternoon, but the offense will be able to score enough points to keep Auburn in the game.


Based on what has been seen out of these teams so far, just about anyone would bet the house on Mississippi State being able to run all over Auburn’s young defensive line, and you’d be a fool not to. Utah State manhandled Auburn’s line and controlled the game with short-yardage attempts on third and fourth down — which were mostly converted — and long, time-consuming scoring drives. The Auburn secondary didn’t give much support, allowing Aggie quarterback Chuckie Keeton to dink and dunk his way to 21 completions and 213 passing yards. To be fair, Ted Roof’s soft zone can be blamed for much of Utah State’s yardage through the air. Nevertheless, if Auburn comes out with the same gameplan and executes as poorly, Mississippi State running back Vick Ballard is likely to leave Jordan-Hare with 400 rushing yards and the Bulldogs with a lopsided victory.

The only hope for Auburn’s D to have a chance on Saturday is for Roof to get aggressive. Pass blitzes and run blitzes, along with man-to-man coverage on the Bulldog receivers, is the only way the Tigers will be able to disrupt, let alone stop, Ballard and the MSU ground game. Roof didn’t blitz much against Utah State because he was afraid of isolating his defensive backs in man coverage. That is a sound concern, since the Tiger secondary has been almost nothing but terrible during the entirety of Roof’s tenure, but Auburn can’t allow Mississippi State to control the ball and keep Trotter and the rest of the offense off the field. Chris Relf wasn’t great throwing the ball against the awful Memphis defense — 13-of-21 for 202 yards, two TDs and a few bad misses — and that should be the focus for Auburn’s defense. Roof needs to put a plan in place that forces Relf to beat the Tigers. And Auburn’s secondary must man up, stay with Chad Bumphis and the other Bulldog receivers and make tackles when the opportunity is there.

Roof has had much better success with halftime adjustments that pregame plans in his time at Auburn. He simplified the playbook in practice this week to cut down on miscommunication and give his young defenders a better chance to be in the right position. That could be a bad thing, since a simpler defense is a more predictable defense, but it seems that it had to be done. Roof will likely make the correct halftime adjustments to get into the Bulldog backfield and limit State’s offense. Unfortunately, it’s hard to see him going into the game with the right plan. If Roof waits until halftime to make the necessary changes, it may be too late.


This is where Auburn will have the biggest advantage and where the Tigers can give themselves a chance to win the game. Brian Egan, the man handling kickoff duties for Mississippi State, couldn’t manage a touchback against Memphis, which should have Tre Mason and Quan Bray dreaming of glory. After averaging more than 35 yards per return against Utah State, Mason and Bray will use their speed to give Auburn solid field position after every Bulldog kickoff. That will be huge for on offense that is facing a tough defense.

Mississippi State didn’t get a chance at a kickoff return against Memphis, so no one really knows how much of a threat the Bulldogs’ return game is. If Cody Parkey and his bionic cannon leg perform the way they did a week ago, it won’t matter if State lines up Usain Bolt and mid-90’s Michael Johnson to return. Unless Week 1 was a fluke, Parkey will be drilling the ball through the end zone and keeping Mississippi State’s returns to a minimum. Forcing the Bulldogs to start at the 20 on every possession after an Auburn score will give the Tiger defense some much-needed margin for error.

The only real concern for Auburn on special teams is Parkey’s abilities as a field goal kicker. Wes Byrum was an absolute rock for four years, nailing game-winner after game-winner. Saturday’s game could come down to the final moments. If Parkey is called on to hit a pressure-filled kick, will he be able to come through? Let’s hope so.


Mississippi State being a seven-point favorite at Jordan-Hare is an overreaction to the teams’ performances in Week 1. The Bulldogs should be favored, but seven points is too high. Auburn fans remember in 2010 when the offensive line was called out after the Clemson game for not being physical enough. Expect a similar reaction out of the offense and defense this week. Auburn will be able to move the ball, but the Bulldog defense will stop the run just enough to keep the Tigers from really getting into a rhythm. Once again, Roof will make great halftime adjustments, but it will be too little, too late. Auburn’s young defense will give up chunks of yardage in the first half and missed tackles will keep a few State drives alive in the second half. In what will be a familiar scene, Auburn will score late to pull the Tigers within a score, but this time, the onside kick will not bounce their way. Auburn’s 16-game winning streak will come to an end, and the Tigers will start SEC play 0-1. Mississippi State 35, Auburn 31.