Star Watch: Defensive back Johnthan Banks (6-2, 185, Sr.) is the leader of the Mississippi State defense and one of the top cornerbacks in the country heading into the 2012 season. With 12 career interceptions he needs just four to tie Walt Harris from the school record.
Up and Coming: Quarterback Tyler Russell (6-4, 220, Jr.) has been consistent in his first two seasons for the Bulldogs, but hasn't been the star that many Mississippi State fans expected coming in as one of the top quarterback prospects in the country. Heading into the season he has a career completion percentage of 55.9 percent, which is fourth in school history. Steady and a player that doesn't make a ton of mistakes, Russell got his 2012 season off to a good start in the win over Jackson State last Saturday as he completed 62.5 percent of his passes for 185 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Newcomers to Watch: A trio of defensive linemen could be the foundation for good things to come for the Bulldogs in the future. Nick James (6-4, 330, Fr.), Quay Evans (6-3, 300, Fr.) and Ryan Brown (6-4, 240, Fr.) all played last week and showed they are going to help Mississippi State sooner rather than later. Defensive back Cedric Jiles (5-10, 170, Fr.) also made an impact with several nice plays in the secondary as well as seeing time on special teams.
Offensive Players to Watch:
Chad Bumphis—A productive wide receiver in his senior season for the Bulldogs, the 5-11, 200 Bumphis has 102 career receptions for 1,357 yards and 13 touchdowns and has averaged 10.4 yards per punt return for his career.
Arceto Clark—The 5-10, 180 senior has 61 career catches for 849 yards and seven touchdowns for the Bulldogs with 55 of those coming the last two seasons.
Marcus Green—At just 6-1, 240 Green does a good job of finding a way to play tight end for the Bulldogs and do it well. A senior, he has caught 44 career passes for 811 yards and five touchdowns with 14 career starts. He caught five passes for 100 yards as a freshman against LSU to set his career highs.
LaDarius Perkins—The former Auburn commitment has 197 career carries for 1,046 yards and seven touchdowns in his career for the Bulldogs. The 5-10, 185 junior speedster has also added 22 receptions for 306 yards and five touchdowns and an additional 644 kickoff return yards in his career.
Defensive Players to Watch:
Josh Boyd—A powerful 6-3, 300 senior, Boyd has made 93 total tackles in his career after a big junior season that saw him collect 51 tackles with four and a half sacks. Boyd has played in 39 career games with 26 starts as a Bulldog.
Corey Broomfield—One of the most experienced defensive backs in the SEC, the 5-10, 180 senior will be playing in his 40th career game on Saturday and has 27 starts under his belt. With 132 career tackles and nine interceptions, he is a very dangerous player opposite Banks in the Mississippi State secondary.
Cameron Lawrence—Although he's just in his second season as a starter, Lawrence has put up some big numbers for the Bulldogs in his career. The 6-3, 230 senior has made 174 total tackles with two interceptions in his 37 games in Starkville with 123 of those coming last season.
Nickoe Whitley—The third of a very advanced trio of defensive backs for Mississippi State, the 6-1, 200 junior has made 90 total tackles in his career with seven interceptions. He has started 19 of 23 career games for the Bulldogs and is the starter at free safety.
Three Keys To Victory For Auburn:
1. Quarterback Kiehl Frazier has to take advantage of his opportunities in the passing game. Missing several open receivers in the loss to Clemson stalled more than one Auburn drive and it's something the Tigers can't afford against a very talented Mississippi State defense. The key for Frazier will be to pick his spots and not force things. Forcing throws against Mississippi State's secondary can prove costly as evidenced by 28 career interceptions combined for Banks, Broomfield, and Whitley.
2. Capitalizing on red zone opportunities on offense is a huge area of concern for Auburn after struggling in the loss to Clemson. Moving the football well for the full length of the field, the Tigers had several chances to score touchdowns but just missed with the passing game. Expect the Tigers to stick with the running game more this week when they get close to try to power the ball into the end zone.
3. Make Mississippi State one-dimensional on offense. In last week's loss to Clemson, Auburn's defense struggled mightily against the running game and allowed quarterback Tajh Boyd to work off that in the passing game for big yardage. This week the Tigers must check Perkins and the MSU running game in check and force Russell to beat the odds on obvious passing downs. If Brian VanGorder's defense can control the Bulldogs on the ground it would go a long way towards getting a W in Starkville.