Mississippi State/Auburn Preview

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The time has come. At 11:00 on Saturday we will all finally see what we’ve been waiting for all summer. What we’ve been waiting for since last September…another shot at Auburn. There’s been talk about this game being a defining moment for our program – I’m not sure what I think about that, but it’s definitely a huge game.

This time the game is in Starkville, although some of the same circumstances from last year still exist. MSU is a 3 point favorite (7 last year). State is coming off a 45+ point beat-down of its Week 1 opponent while Auburn struggled in its opener. The game is early in the day, just like last year.

You can bet Dan Mullen wants to win this game. From Cam Newton to headset problems, and he has never beaten Auburn….0-3 as a head coach and 0-2 as an assistant coach – including Florida’s only loss in their 2006 national championship season. Auburn has won 10 of the last 11 games in this series – something I forgot to in include in the Top 10 reasons State must win this game…there are just so many!

Key Matchup: MSU’s offensive tackles vs. Auburn’s defensive ends

The Tigers have some very talented defensive ends in Corey Lemonier, Dee Ford and Nosa Eguae, and they’ll be going up against Left Tackle Blaine Clausell and Right Tackle Charles Siddoway (or even Damien Robinson). Those two had a few deficiencies against Jackson State – how will they handle these great Tiger pass rushers?

If Russell is under too much pressure and doesn’t have much time to throw, will State try to make something happen with Jameon Lewis in the wildcat or put Prescott in (to run it)? The screen pass is something we haven’t seen much the past few years, but it could be a valuable weapon for Russell to dump off to Perkins, Robinson or Lewis.

Biggest question: Will Chris Wilson apply pressure to Auburn’s offense?

Wilson has made a habit of playing bend but don’t break. Will he stick to a zone defense, or play more man and apply pressure? Keihl Frazier was just 11 of 27 against Clemson, but he has one of the most talented WR in the SEC in Emory Blake. All-SEC TE Philip Lutzenkirchen is also a huge target as well.

Frazier has plenty of ability to make plays with his legs, so will Wilson stay away from the blitz to force him into beating State with his arm? Johnthan Banks is more than capable of handling Blake, but will State force Frazier to throw into coverage to get him the ball instead of playing 7-10 yards off the line of scrimmage?

X Factor: Kicking Game

Field position was huge in last year’s matchup. On four different possessions, Auburn started on the their 41, 46, 50 and MSU’s 36. Those possessions accounted for 24 of their 41 points. MSU had six separate starting field positions on their own 1, 8, 11, 14 and 17 (twice) yard lines. With the new kickoff rules, hopefully Brian Egan and Devon Bell can get some touchbacks.

On field goals, Auburn has a major advantage on paper. Cody Parkey is 17 of 22 in his career including 4 for 4 last week. Mississippi State doesn’t have a placekicker who has ever made a FG – Egan is 0 for 1, Bell is 0 for 1. Charlie Grandfield kicked four extra points vs. JSU, but did not attempt a FG.

Auburn Defense 

Nine returning starters and new D.C. Brian VanGorder coming in from the NFL brought high expectations to the Plains, but they gave up 528 total yards in Week 1. Clemson basically ran at will with 320 rushing yards. Look for Les Koenning to make AU stop the run before he commits to an aerial attack. LaDarius Perkins had 78 yards on 11 carries in this game last year. One of their new starters is sophomore safety Jermaine Whitehead, who makes his return to Mississippi (Greenwood).

Auburn Offense

I’ve already mentioned Emory Blake and Lutz as the main receiving threats. On the ground they’ll miss their bruiser, Michael Dyer, but Tre Mason is 5′-10″, 198 and can run between the tackles (106 yards vs. Clemson). Onterio McCalebb is the big play threat as they love to run him on the jet sweep. When they release the tackle and try to get him 1-on-1 with the DE, will Autry or McCardell be able to stop him before he turns the corner – or if Eulls is at End will there be a CB playing near the line to nip it? They start two freshman and two sophomores on the line, hopefully MSU’s powerful DL can penetrate.

Final Thoughts

MSU probably has the advantage at QB, LB and the secondary. Auburn should have the advantage at RB, and they have the best WR and TE. The D-Lines are close, Auburn probably has the better Ends and State the better Tackles. O-line play will be huge – the Tigers are getting their 2011 Freshman All-American C Reese Dismukes back (suspended Week 1), and that kind of equals the standout State has with Gabe Jackson. Beyond that it’s a bunch of youth and inexperience on the O-line for both teams.

Matthew Wells was EVERYWHERE against Jackson State. Will he be able to make an impact here – perhaps spying Lutz?

It’s going to be a great game. These two teams are so close. They both have the same amount of AP poll points (3), MSU is basically a favorite based only on home-field advantage (-3). If State can get better field position this year through the kicking game and playing less zone defense, maybe force Frazier to throw it into coverage and possibly get a couple picks – then I feel really good about this game.

Make no mistake this game will be totally different from last week. But everything State went through last year should have prepared them for this. There should be no over-confidence, no being caught off guard. The game is in Starkville, it’s time to get a big win. HAIL STATE!

@mandwnation