StatTiger: Analyzing Miss. State at Auburn

Stuart Carter crunches the numbers as he picks the winner of Auburn's SEC opener vs. Mississippi State.

No. 17/16 Mississippi State 1-0 at No. 22/NR Auburn 1-0

Series record: Auburn 59-23-2 against Mississippi State

2011 National Rankings:

Auburn/Mississippi State: Rush Offense: 96th/Rush Offense: 5th
Pass Offense: 27th/Pass Offense: 12th
Total Offense: 68th/Total Offense: 4th
Score Offense: 27th/Score Offense: 7th
Rush Defense: 99th/Rush Defense: 79th
Pass Defense: 65th/Pass Defense: 38th
Total Defense: 89th/Total Defense: 55th
Score Defense: 94th/Score Defense: 32nd

About Mississippi State...

Last week the Mississippi State Bulldogs extended their record to 15-11 under Coach Dan Mullen, including an 11-4 record in their last 15 games.

The Bulldogs opened the season with a 59-14 romp over the Memphis Tigers last week. Mississippi State did it with explosive plays on offense and a very balanced attack against a severely out-manned Memphis team.

Two days later the Auburn Tigers had to rally during the final three minutes of the game to defeat the Utah State Aggies, 42-38, in a game the Auburn defense performed poorly.

During the five seasons prior to Mullen's arrival at Mississippi State the Bulldog offense averaged 287.8 yards per game at 4.47 yards per play. Since his arrival MSU has averaged 396.4 yards per game at 5.75 yards per play.

Dan Mullen

The offense is the strength of the 2011 Mississippi State Bulldogs and Mullen is looking for even more improvement this season. Since becoming the full-time starter during the 2010 season, Chris Relf has compiled a passer rating of 180.8 during his last four starts.

Chris Relf is a returning starter at quarterback for the Bulldogs.

During his last four games Relf has passed for 995 yards while rushing for 250 yards. Running back Vick Ballard (5-11, 220) has become a major weapon in the Maroon offense as well as one of the top running backs in the conference. The Bulldogs have a solid trio of receivers in Chad Bumphis, Arceto Clark and Jameon Lewis on an offense that features eight returning starters from last season.

The Bulldogs return seven starters on defense, but lost all of their starting linebackers from 2010. Mississippi State made major improvements on defense in 2010, finishing the season rated No. 49 in total defense and No. 21 in scoring defense.

The Bulldogs do return three of their top five leading tacklers in Charles Mitchell, Johnthan Banks and Corey Broomfield, but all three play in the secondary. Josh Boyd (DT) is their top returning producer in tackles for lost yardage, but the Bulldogs must replace three defenders who accounted for 33.5 tackles for loss in 2010.

The Bulldogs should be strong in the secondary, but their front seven might have issues as they allowed Memphis to rush for 180 yards not including sacks.

The special teams were exceptional in kick coverage, not allowing a single punt return from five punts and giving up only 17.0 yards per return on 10 kick returns vs. Memphis. Punter Baker Swedenburg dropped four of his five punts inside the Memphis 20 and still averaged better than 41 yards per punt. On the flipside, Mississippi State had issues in their return game.

Inside the Numbers...

•In its opening game Mississippi State averaged 8.40 yards per play on first down picking up 269 yards on 32 plays. The offense was balanced running 17 times and passing 15 times on first down.

•Though Relf's overall passing numbers were solid with a 174.1 pass rating, he was just 1-6 passing on third down for a rating of just 40.5.

•The MSU offense generated 12 impact plays (15 yards or more) against the Memphis defense with 12 plays accounting for 425 yards. Without the impact plays, the Bulldogs gained a respectable 220 yards on 57 plays.

•Mississippi State had four rush attempts that totaled 157 yards. Even without the impact plays in their running game, the Bulldogs' ground attack gained a solid 4.47 yards per rush on their remaining 34 rush attempts.

•The offense was more reliant on big plays against Memphis, managing to convert only 4-12 third down situations.

•Auburn has won nine of the last 10 meetings against Mississippi State.

•Mississippi State running back Vick Ballard has rushed for 969-yards on 161 carries for 17 touchdowns in his last 9 games.

•Under Mullen's guidance Mississippi State is 12-4 when the team rushes for at least 200 yards and 3-7, when it does not.

•Auburn is 13-6-1 against Mississippi State at home during the last 20 meetings.

•Mississippi State under Mullen is 2-8 in games against Top 25 teams.

•If the contest comes down 3rd down efficiency in the passing game, Mississippi State could be in trouble. Last week against Memphis, Relf struggled in those situations and last season he had a rating a pass rating of 96.2 on third down plays.

Why Auburn should win...

•Auburn is currently 18-2 at home under Coach Gene Chizik. Auburn's home crowd makes a huge difference, when it comes to pumping up the team.

•Auburn is 7-2 against Top 25 opponents under Chizik. His staff has done a solid job preparing Auburn for big games.

•Since 1981 Auburn is 21-5-0 against Mississippi State following a victory the previous week.

•Auburn currently has the No. 6 rated pass offense in the nation and Mississippi State is currently No. 41 in pass efficiency defense.

•Auburn is 7-1 under Chizik coming off a victory of seven points or less.

Why Mississippi State should win...

•Since 1992 Auburn is 10-0-0 against Mississippi State when the Bulldogs finish the season with a losing record and 2-6-0 when MSU finishes with a winning record.

•Mississippi State has the more experienced team and Auburn has too many adjustments to make from week No.1 to week No. 2.

•The Auburn defense will likely be mismatched against the Bulldog offense when it comes to assignment awareness.

•Look for Mississippi State to scheme to make Barrett Trotter beat them, which will be a tall order for a quarterback making his first conference start.

•Though Auburn holds a decisive edge in the overall series record, the Tigers have struggled against the better Mississippi State teams. This Bulldog team has an opportunity of being better than the 9-4 squad from 2010.

Barrett Trotter completed 18-24 passes last Saturday vs. Utah State.

Final Word...

Based on the performances by both teams during their season openers it would be easy to pick Mississippi State to win this Saturday at Jordan-Hare. Talent, experience and depth play a major factor, but sometimes "match-ups" become the deciding factor in the outcome of a football game.

There should be concern by both defensive coordinators in stopping the opponent's running game. In the last 50 meetings between the two programs, the team with the most rushing yardage is 44-5-1. The Bulldogs are 9-1-1 and Auburn is 35-4-0 in those contests. This is the very reason why Chizik has placed a emphasis on being more physical this week.

Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and offensive line coach Jeff Grimes will certainly evaluate the offensive line and running game this week in preparation for Mississippi State, but expect a different approach to making it work against the Bulldogs. It's important to remember Auburn's struggles were mainly due to blown assignments and not being physically out-performed against Utah State.

Auburn cannot afford to waste early offensive possessions in an attempt to establish the running game so don't be surprised if the Tigers pass early to set up the run. Once the offensive line becomes more cohesive, the running game and overall offense will drastically improve.

Teams are often not as good as they look or as bad as they look on opening day but there are valid concerns on the defensive side of the football for the Tigers. Eight of the starting defensive players against Utah State had three or fewer career starts with four Tigers making their first college start.

Though Auburn has talent this is definitely a rebuilding phase because reloading involves an equal number of starters returning to those lost. This is not the case for the Auburn defense or even the offense. Defensive coordinator Ted Roof might be reluctant being aggressive in scheme this week because of the youth factor, but if Auburn continues to play conservatively on defense that strategy will likely result in a slow death. Auburn's defense must find a way of getting off the field sooner without giving up points.

The concept of playing conservative on defense is to prevent giving up the big play. The Utah State Aggies produced 448 yards, 38 points and four plays of 30-yards or more despite Auburn's attempt to control their offense. Auburn will need to be more aggressive in its approach to Mississippi State or the Bulldogs will put on another offensive clinic at Jordan-Hare.

Despite the victory Auburn's players were genuinely embarrassed by their performance on opening day so expect a motivated group on a mission to redeem themselves. We witnessed a young team not void of talent make a lot of mistakes this past Saturday, but we also witnessed that same team fighting all the way to the end. As long as the Tigers continue to work to improve, Auburn should create opportunities for victory. Auburn 27, Mississippi State 23

Around the Southeastern Conference...

Kentucky over Central Michigan by 6
Tennessee over Cincinnati by 24
Alabama over Penn State by 11
South Carolina over Georgia by 7
Ole Miss over Southern Illinois by 22
Arkansas over New Mexico by 33
Florida over UAB by 27
Vanderbilt over Connecticut by 5
LSU over Northwestern State by 35

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