StatTiger: Analyzing Auburn at Miss. State

StatTiger (Stuart Carter) crunches the numbers and predicts a winner for Auburn's SEC football opener.

Auburn 1-0/0-0 SEC at Mississippi State 1-0/0-0 SEC

Series record: 55-25-3 in favor of Auburn

2010 National Rankings:

Auburn: Mississippi State:

Rush Offense: 5th Rush Offense: 41st

Pass Offense: 45th Pass Offense: 6th

Total Offense: 3rd Total Offense: 6th

Score Offense: 10th Score Offense: 15th

Rush Defense: 11th Rush Defense: 10th

Pass Defense: 101st Pass Defense: 58th

Total Defense: 68th Total Defense: 29th

Score Defense: 74th Score Defense: 20th

About Mississippi State...

Last season under first year head coach Dan Mullen the Mississippi State Bulldogs finished with a 5-7 record, but two of their losses were by seven points or less. The Bulldogs made major improvements from 2008 to 2009 going from 113th in total offense to 65th and 115th in scoring offense to 72nd.

The biggest improvement came in their running game, climbing from 105th in 2008 to No. 9 in 2009. Mullen hopes to continue the trend in 2010 with seven returning starters on offense.

Though Mississippi State improved on the offensive side of the football, the Bulldogs dropped in defensive production from No. 35 in total defense in 2008 to 58th in 2009. If Mississippi State is going to return to post-season action, it will require both units improving in 2010.

The Maroons opened the season with an impressive 49-7 victory over Memphis in a game MSU out-gained their opponent 569 yards to 237 yards. Freshman quarterback Tyler Russell had an outstanding debut by passing for 256 yards and four touchdowns while hitting 13 of 16 passes.

Mississippi State relied on a three-headed combination of running backs to replace Anthony Dixon with its running game contributing 197 yards that night. Receivers Brandon Heavens, Chad Bumphis and Leon Berry each had more than 90 yards in receiving making the Bulldogs' pass offense more dynamic in their season opener.

Like Auburn MSU returns four of its starting offensive linemen and the four top receivers. The key on offense will be replacing the top two performers from the running back position and finding balance with their two rotating quarterbacks.

On defense Mississippi State has eight returning starters, which includes eight of their top 11 tacklers from 2009. As much as the offense has improved under Mullen, State's defense must improve for the Bulldogs to make a serious challenge for the championship of the SEC West.

As dominant as their defense appeared to be against Memphis, the Bulldogs had only six tackles for lost yardage and two of their three leading tacklers came from the secondary. MSU registered only one quarterback sack from 32 pass attempts while the Auburn defense managed from 49 pass attempts.

Linebackers K.J. Wright and Chris White are the Bulldogs' top returning tacklers combining for 156 in 2009. Corey Broomfield, Charles Mitchell and Jonathan Banks combined for 14 interceptions in 2009 and veteran Maurice Langston made two picks during the season opener.

Senior defensive tackle Pernell McPhee had 12 tackles for losses in 2009, which included a team leading five quarterback sacks. Cameron Newton will face a much more aggressive secondary than the one he faced against Arkansas State.

Inside the Numbers...

•Over the past 20 meetings Auburn holds a 13-7-1 record, including an 8-2 record in the last 10 meetings. Auburn has won seven of the last 10 road games against the Bulldogs.

•Last season the Tigers rushed for 390 yards against Mississippi State, spicing up their nine-year average against State to 233.9 yards per game. It's no surprise why Auburn is 8-1 in the last nine meetings.

•Over the past 50 meetings against Mississippi State, Auburn has rushed for more than 200 yards on 27 occasions, compiling a record of 24-3-0 with an average score of 30-12.

•How important is winning the rushing battle in this matchup? In the last 50 meetings between the two schools, Auburn is 35-3-0 when it finishes the game with the most rushing yardage and Mississippi State is 10-1-1 for an overall record of 45-4-1 for the team with the most rushing yardage.

•Auburn's leading rusher against Mississippi State has averaged 103 yards and 5.5 yards per carry during the last 25 meetings.

Brandon Jacobs' 182 yards rushing against Mississippi State in 2003 was the most rushing yards by an Auburn Tiger against the Bulldogs since quarterback Bobby Hunt rushed for 214 yards in 1959

. •Auburn is 15-1 against Mississippi State over the past 30 meetings when Auburn has a 100-yard rusher against the Bulldogs.

Why Auburn should win...

•Both teams were impressive on offense, but Mississippi State posted the better defensive numbers. The Bulldogs' 49-7 victory in their season opener appears impressive on paper, but so did their season opener in 2009 when they defeated Jackson State, 45-7. The Bulldogs will face more of a challenge defending the Auburn offense than Auburn defending the Mississippi State offense.

•Auburn has the better overall skill players on offense and a slight edge on defense. Auburn's 16 impact plays against Arkansas State is a strong indicator the Tigers will likely surpass the 119 totaled in 2009.

•The better run offense has dominated this series and Auburn has the better run-offense in 2010. The combination of Mario Fannin, Onterio McCalebb, Michael Dyer and Cameron Newton behind a veteran offensive line will be difficult to control much less stop.

•Mississippi State is still learning how to win while Auburn is attempting to return to elite status within the conference. Both teams are in year No. 2 of a rebuilding process, but Auburn had a stronger foundation to start off with than State did.

Why Mississippi State should win…

•Mississippi State made a game of it last season during the first half and should be more familiar with Gus Malzahn's offense the second time around.

•Auburn's recent struggles on defense dating back to 2008 have yet to be mended, making any solid offense the Tigers face a challenge.

•Last season State's victory over Ole Miss was its signature win. With Auburn coming to town on a short week of preparation the setting might be right for an upset and a stepping stone to a winning season.

•Auburn's depth issues at cornerback could be exposed by a Mississippi State offense that has worked hard to improve their pass-offense.

Final Word...

Mississippi State's lopsided victory in the season opener could be just what the doctor ordered for the Auburn Tigers. You can bet the Auburn players have been challenged by their coaching staff pointing out mistakes and miscues from the season opener. This should provide added motivation for the players to execute better in their conference opener and first road test.

It will be important for Auburn to come out swinging from the opening bell, not allowing the Bulldogs to believe they have arrived. Taking the home crowd out of the equation early on will make the Tigers first road trip of the season a much smoother event.

Last Saturday the Auburn offense found the big play easy to come by, which likely won't be the case against Mississippi State. The key to success will likely be the medium range plays or "impact" plays required to be consistent on offense.

Last year Auburn generated 15 plays of 15-yards or more against Mississippi State, which means Cameron Newton will need to be efficient in the passing game. The underneath routes and screens will be his best bet for developing a comfort zone rather than shooting for everything in one play. As long as Newton can distribute the football to Auburn's wealth of "skill" players, the Auburn offense should be successful Thursday night.

There might not be a great defense on the field Thursday night in Starkville, but the better defensive team will have a major say in the outcome of the game. A blocked punt by Mississippi State gave the Bulldogs an early lead last year so special teams could also influence the flow of this game, especially if everything else is close to being equal.

The biggest concern for Auburn is its young road history under Gene Chizik. The Tigers are currently 2-3 away from Jordan-Hare, including a 1-3 record in conference play. The offense has averaged 361 yards and 24 points per game away from Auburn, making the first road game of 2010 a major challenge for the Auburn Tiger offense.

Both teams will be hungry for their first conference victory of the season, but I see Mississippi State more motivated in this game simply because that team will be the underdog and the fact they were blown out by Auburn in 2009. This is the reason why it is so vital for Auburn to play well early or the Tigers could find themselves in the midst of ringing cowbells all night long.

If Auburn is to make the next step to greatness, it has to win these types of games or re-evaluate the direction the team is headed. This game could define the Auburn coaching staff's ability to motivate and prepare their team and how the players respond to adversity, which is often found on the road. Until proven wrong, I like the Tigers' senior leadership and offensive firepower of what could be the most prolific Auburn offense in school history. Auburn 34, Mississippi State 23

Around the SEC... Alabama over Penn State by 7

Arkansas over La.-Monroe by 35

Ole Miss over Tulane by 20

Florida over South Florida by 17

Georgia over South Carolina by 6

Kentucky over Western Kentucky by 30

Oregon over Tennessee by 11

LSU over Vanderbilt by 9

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