StatTiger's Breakdown: Miss. State at Auburn

Stuart Carter analyzes the numbers and predicts a winner for Auburn's SEC football opener as Mississippi State visits Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Auburn 2-0 (0-0) vs. Mississippi State 1-1 (0-0)

Series Record: 60-24-2 (Auburn)

Last Meeting: (2012) Mississippi State won, 28-10

About each team...

Both are coming off victories during this past Saturday with Auburn defeating Arkansas State 38-9 and Mississippi State defeating Alcorn State 51-7.

Coach Dan Mullen enters the contest with a 30-23 career head coaching record, all at Mississippi State. Gus Malzahn enters the contest with a coaching record of 11-3.

The Bulldogs have seven returning starters on offense and six on defense. Auburn returns six starters on offense and eight on defense this season.

Auburn currently has 40 players rated as 4-stars or better by and Mississippi State has 16.

Auburn has 31 players with at least 20 games of experience and Mississippi State has 28.

During the past five seasons Auburn has compiled a 10-10 record at home against conference opponents and Mississippi State is 6-13 on the road in conference play.

During the past five seasons Auburn is 4-1 against the Bulldogs and 8-2 over the past 10 seasons.

Mississippi State under Mullen is 5-16 against SEC-West competition.

Inside the Numbers:

*Mississippi State is currently averaging 194 rushing yards per game with Ashton Shumpert as the leader with 98 total yards on 22 carries.

*Auburn enters the game averaging 298 rushing yards per game with Corey Grant, Tre Mason and Cameron Artis-Payne all having more than 150 yards rushing on the season.

*Dak Prescott leads the Bulldogs in passing with starter Tyler Russell missing playing time due to a concussion. Prescott has a pass rating of 126.9, completing 52.8 percent of his passes. Tyler Russell has a rating of 119.8.

*Nick Marshall will make his third career start as an Auburn Tiger and comes into the game with a pass rating of 131.3 while completing 55.6 percent of his passes. He is also averaging 40 rushing yards per game.

*Jameon Lewis (WR) and Malcolm Johnson (TE) are the top two receivers for the Bulldogs. Lewis has seven receptions for 90 yards and Johnson has five for 79 yards.

*Sammie Coates and Jay Prosch lead the Tigers in receiving. Coates has four catches for 112 yards and Prosch has three for 31 yards.

*Senior linebacker Deontae Skinner leads MSU with 15 tackles this season and Mississippi State has only one sack.

Deontae Skinner is a senior linebacker for the Bulldogs.

*Chris Davis leads Auburn with 13 tackles and Gabe Wright has three tackles for losses.

*Auburn is averaging 431 yards and 34.5 points per game while Mississippi State is allowing 297.5 yards and 14 points per game. Mississippi State is averaging 444.5 yards and 27 points on offense while Auburn is allowing 443 yards and 16.5 points per game.

*Since 1992 Auburn is 12-2 against MSU when Auburn out-rushes the Bulldogs and 2-5 when they don't.

*Both offenses will be built around their ground attacks. Since 2009 Auburn is 15-4 in SEC play with 150 yards rushing or more and 1-13 when the Tigers don't reach that mark. Mississippi State is 11-6 in the SEC with at least 150 rushing and 2-13 when coming up short of that total.

*During the 12 previous meetings with Mississippi State, Auburn has compiled a record of 10-2 in those games. The Tigers did so by averaging 218 yards rushing and 163 yards passing for an average score of 29-15.

What to watch...

*The team that wins the running game will likely register its first conference victory of the season. Auburn might have the edge here with the Tigers averaging 298 yards per game rushing while allowing 135. Mississippi State is averaging 194 yards rushing on offense and allowing 157 yards per game on defense.

If the running games are about equal during the game, the quarterback who is more efficient on third downs will become the key. During the last 26 games Auburn is 8-3 with a pass efficiency rating of 129 or better on third downs.

*Auburn has yet to give up a sack this season while its defense has recorded four. Mississippi State has given up four sacks while its defense has registered only one. Auburn's defense has 29 quarterback hurries and the Bulldogs have nine. This could be another banner game for Auburn's front four.

*In terms of runs of 10-plus yards and passes of 15-plus, Auburn has the edge in explosive plays. The Tigers average one every 5.0 snaps on offense while allowing one every 8.4 snaps on defense. Mississippi State is averaging one every 5.1 plays while allowing 1 every 6.5 snaps.

*If it is a close game Auburn has the statistical edge in five of the six special teams categories involving punt returns, kickoff returns, punting and field goals.

*Auburn has faced two pocket passers this season and they combined for 88 yards rushing on 17 carries. Nick Marshall has 80 yards on 17 carries. The Tigers must improve containment on the opposing quarterbacks.

Keys to victory…

With Marshall still developing and adjusting to the offense, it is vital the offensive line and the running game delivers for the Tigers. Of his 36 pass attempts 69.4 percent have been within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. Marshall has completed only 3-11 passes thrown beyond 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.

The Bulldog offense has generated 31 dynamic plays from 157 snaps while Auburn's defense has allowed 20 through two games. Auburn's defense must tackle well and limit the big play potential of the Bulldog offense.

Because this matchup could be decided in the fourth quarter, turnovers could play a major role in the outcome. MSU has turned the ball over three times while forcing three on defense. Auburn has turned the ball over twice and has forced four.

Mississippi State has struggled throwing on third downs with a pass rating of 70.9. Auburn has been more efficient on third downs with a rating of 132.5. Marshall must deliver in this area to take his game and Auburn to another level.

Final Word...

After a solid start Auburn enters into conference play against a Mississippi State team that defeated the Tigers 28-10 last year in Starkville. This will clearly be the most difficult opponent Auburn has faced to this point of the season.

The Bulldogs possess the talent and ability to beat Auburn, which means the Tigers will have to be the more physical team to come away triumphant this Saturday night. Since 1992 Auburn is 7-3 at home against Mississippi State, which should provide a comfort zone for Marshall making his SEC debut as a quarterback.

Jumping out to a quick start as Auburn did against the Arkansas State Red Wolves would set the tone for playing "downhill." Malzahn is 37-7 in games his offense scores 10 or more points during the first period and 58-14 with at least seven points.

Auburn has shown the ability to hammer the football with its running game, but can the Tigers do it in conference play where the trenches become more demanding and physical?

Malzahn has game-planned the past two games to bring Marshall along slowly, yet allow him to grow confidence. Should the Bulldogs control the Auburn running game, Marshall will have to step up to keep the chains moving. This is a critical game for an Auburn team attempting to reclaim its reputation being a very physical team.

Gus Malzahn will be looking to win his first SEC game as a head coach on Saturday night as the Tigers and Bulldogs square off at 6 p.m. CDT at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

The last eight times Auburn has won its conference opener against Mississippi State the Tigers finished the season with a winning record seven times. This will be one of the few times Auburn is favored in conference play this season.

The Auburn coaching staff knows a lot more about its team through two games than it did before the season opener, which makes for better game planning. Compared to the 2012 squad, the 2013 Auburn Tigers appear to be a more physical and focused team. The basic fundamentals of blocking and tackling have improved and Auburn is beginning to play with more swagger and confidence than at any point of the 2012 season.

Will this be enough for victory this Saturday? The goal of the current coaching staff was to return Auburn to being one of the top football programs in the conference. In order to achieve this goal the Tigers have to beat teams like Mississippi State. Auburn takes another step in the right direction and improves to 3-0. Auburn 31, Mississippi State 20

Around the Southeastern Conference…

Louisville over Kentucky
Arkansas over Southern Miss
Oregon over Tennessee
Alabama over Texas A&M
LSU over Kent State
South Carolina over Vanderbilt
Ole Miss over Texas

Season Record: 22-3

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