Dye-Gest: Physical Bulldogs Offer A Real Test

College Football Hall of Fame coach Pat Dye writes about this week's featured SEC matchup with Auburn traveling to Mississippi State.

When looking at Auburn’s schedule back in the spring and summer I anticipated this week’s road trip to play Mississippi State was going to be a challenging football game, but I don’t think anybody anticipated the Bulldogs would be ranked No. 3 in the nation when Auburn arrived for this SEC West showdown.

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So far this season Mississippi State is playing like a great football team and the same is true of Ole Miss, another team the Tigers have to play on the road in the state of Mississippi this fall. Of all the games remaining on Auburn’s schedule this week’s contest in Starkville could be the most challenging for Coach Gus Malzahn’s team because I think Mississippi State is the best team the Tigers will face during the regular season.

I watched a lot of Mississippi State playing against LSU and Texas A&M and the Bulldogs are really, really outstanding at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the football and they have got a great quarterback in Dak Prescott. They also have got good skill people surrounding him, including a running back with all of the tools to be successful.

If anybody in the SEC is going to match up favorably with this veteran Mississippi State team it will probably be the Tigers, who like the Bulldogs feature a lot of proven players on offense and defense along with a returning starter at quarterback in Nick Marshall, who is pretty good, too. Against LSU the Auburn quarterback played closer to what we have been expecting from him all season with help from his teammates who didn’t drop passes while making some great catches and great runs.

Nick Marshall passed for two touchdowns and ran for two more in Auburn's 41-7 victory over LSU.

Moving the football is going to be more challenging this week for the Tigers because Mississippi State is more physical than LSU, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Although Auburn looked very impressive on offense last Saturday night, I just don’t think the LSU Tigers are as good as they have been in recent years.

I did think LSU has a pretty good offensive line and Mississippi State has got a good one, too, so it’s about a wash there. However, the quarterback is the key difference. LSU is struggling at that position and Mississippi State is not. The Auburn Tigers need to find a way to prevent Prescott from hurting them with his running ability while at the same time putting enough pressure on him when drops back to pass to force him into some bad throws or sacks. If the Tigers can do that they have a lot better chance of winning in Starkville than if they let Prescott stand back in the pocket and allow him a chance to free-wheel it.

For Mississippi State a major key will be to try to disrupt Auburn’s quarterback because Marshall will be a threat to make big plays if the Bulldogs can’t handle that assignment.

The teams really are a lot alike. The Bulldogs may be a little stronger at the line of scrimmage than Auburn, which might have an edge with the receiving group. Both have strong running backs. When you add it all up it looks like an exciting matchup and potentially one of the best games in college football this season.

Looking at this week’s SEC picks:

Georgia at Missouri--I’m going to pick Missouri even though Georgia has a great running back with Todd Gurley in the lineup. Missouri has proven it can play in the big boy league and I think Mizzou’s quarterback, Matty Mauk, is more productive than Georgia’s quarterback. That, combined with homefield advantage, will be the difference.

Louisiana-Monroe at Kentucky--The Wildcats are coming off an exciting victory over South Carolina and should win again.

UT-Chattanooga at Tennessee--Tennessee’s lack of offensive production shouldn’t be an issue vs. this opponent from the Southern Conference so the Vols had a great chance to pick up another win.

Alabama at Arkansas--The Razorbacks could make this interesting, but Alabama has more talent and a much better defense, two factors that will set up a road victory for the Razorbacks who have not won an SEC game since the 2012 season.

LSU at Florida--I think the Gators will win playing in Gainesville, but this game should be close with both teams having quarterback problems.

Charleston Southern at Vanderbilt--Even though the visitors are 5-0, Charleston Southern is making a big step up in competition level so the Commodores should be able to pick up their second win of the season.

Ole Miss at Texas A&M--I am going to pick Texas A&M to pull off the upset in what will probably be a close game. I believe Ole Miss will be emotionally drained from its big win last Saturday and playing at home the Aggies should be able to take advantage of that.

Auburn at Mississippi State--I’m going to pick the Tigers because of their ability to score points. I also think the Auburn defense has improved to the point it can cause some problems for Prescott, but the Mississippi State quarterback is playing great football and can lead the Bulldogs to a victory if Auburn isn’t sharp or is mistake-prone on Saturday.

Season record: 45-10.

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