Stat Tiger: Analyzing AU at Miss. State Game

Stuart Carter goes in depth crunching the numbers for his StatTiger column to pick a winner as No. 2 Auburn plays No. 3 Mississippi State in a midseason SEC West showdown.

No. 2 Auburn (5-0) at No. 4 Mississippi State (5-0)

Series Record: Auburn (61-24-2)

Last Meeting: (2013) Auburn, 24-20

About the teams:

*Coach Dan Mullen is 41-28-0 in his sixth year at Mississippi State. Gus Malzahn is 26-5 all time and 17-2 at Auburn. Mullen is 1-4 vs. Auburn.

*Both teams are 5-0 on the season and 2-0 in conference play. Auburn is ranked No. 2 in the AP and Coaches poll while the Bulldogs are No. 3 in the AP ranking and No. 6 in the coaches poll.

*Nick Marshall has a quarterback rating of 150.3 with eight touchdown passes to just one interception. His leading receiver is Duke Williams with 25 catches for 385 yards and three touchdowns. Also for Auburn, Jeremy Johnson has a quarterback rating of 231.2 with three touchdowns and no interceptions.

*Cameron Artis-Payne leads the Tigers in rushing with 594 yards at 5.4 yards per carry. Marshall is No. 2 in rushing with 392 yards, averaging 6.8 yards per attempt.

*Cassanova McKinzy leads Auburn in tackles with 35 and Montravius Adams leads the Tigers in tackles for loss with five. Kris Frost is right behind Adams with four tackles for loss and Johnathan Ford is No. 2 in total tackles with 32.

Sophomore lineman Montravius Adams has big-play potential for the Auburn defense. He is shown returning an interception vs. Louisiana Tech.

*Auburn has 35 tackles for loss on defense while allowing 23 on offense. This includes 10 sacks to three surrendered.

*The Bulldogs’ ground game currently averages 274.4 yards per contest led by Josh Robinson with 592 yards at 7.49 yards per rush. Dak Prescott is their No. 2 rusher with 455 yards at 5.35 yards per carry.

*Prescott has a quarterback rating of 180.7 with 13 touchdown passes to just two picks. He is one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation if not the best.

*De’Runnya Wilson and Jameon Lewis have combined for 29 receptions for an average of 16.2 yards per catch and six touchdown receptions for the Bulldogs.

*Linebacker Benardrick McKinney leads Mississippi State in tackles with 36 and in tackles for loss with six.

*The Bulldogs have recorded 42 tackles for loss while allowing 19 on offense. This includes 18 sacks on defense and 10 sacks allowed on offense.

*Malzahn's offense vs. Mississippi State has averaged 444 yards and 33 points per game while Mullen’s offense has averaged 375 yards and 24 points against Auburn.

*Though Auburn has signed 50 recruits rated as four and five star players from 2011-2014 compared to MSU's 16, the Bulldogs are not without talent. From 2011-2014, 81 percent of their recruits were rated as three stars or better. In contrast, only 40 percent were three stars or better from 2002-2005 and 63.3 percent from 2007-2010.

How they match up...

*Auburn’s run offense is ranked No. 15 nationally vs. MSU's run defense, which is No. 11. MSU is No. 14 in rushing vs. Auburn, which is ranked No. 13 in run defense. Slight edge to Mississippi State.

*MSU’s offense is ranked No. 4 in pass efficiency vs. Auburn, which is No. 21 in pass efficiency defense. Auburn is currently No. 6 in pass efficiency vs. MSU, which is ranked No. 45 in pass efficiency defense. Edge to Auburn.

*MSU is No. 1 in yards per play on first down vs. Auburn, which is ranked No. 57 in yards allowed on first down. Auburn is No. 47 in yards per play on first down vs. MSU, which is No. 76 in yards allowed per play on first down. Edge to MSU.

*Auburn is No. 2 nationally in third down offense vs. MSU, which is ranked No. 5 in third down defense. MSU is No. 71 in third down offense vs. Auburn, which is No. 13 in third down defense. Edge to Auburn.

*Auburn is No. 4 in red zone touchdown percentage vs. MSU, which is No. 6 for red zone defense. MSU is No. 31 in red zone offense vs. Auburn, which is No. 8 for red zone defense. Edge to Auburn.

*Auburn is No. 6 in generating run plays of 10-plus yards and pass plays of 15-plus yards vs. MSU, which is ranked No. 64 in preventing those plays. MSU is No. 16 in generating impact plays on offense vs. Auburn, which is No. 25 in preventing them. Edge to Auburn.

*Auburn is No. 24 in generating run plays of 20-plus yards and pass plays of 25-plus yards vs. MSU, which is ranked No. 66 defending them. MSU is No. 8 in generating big plays on offense vs. Auburn, which is No. 32 on defense. Slight edge to Auburn.

*Auburn is No. 24 in turnover margin vs. MSU, which is No. 31 nationally. Slight edge to Auburn.

*Auburn is No. 32 in tackles for loss vs. MSU, which is ranked No. 11 in tackles for loss allowed. MSU is No. 10 in tackles for loss vs. Auburn, which is No. 27 in tackles for loss allowed. Edge to Mississippi State.

*MSU is No. 32 in net punting vs. Auburn, which is No. 94. Edge to MSU.

*Auburn is No. 4 in punt return offense vs. MSU, which is No. 92 in punt return defense. MSU is No. 71 in punt return offense vs. Auburn, which is ranked No. 116 in punt return defense. Edge to Auburn.

*MSU is No. 69 in kick return offense vs. Auburn, which is No. 110 in kick return defense. Auburn is No. 49 in kick return offense vs. MSU, which is ranked No. 23 in kick return defense. Edge to MSU.

Keys to victory...

*Both teams run the football to set up play-action passes. Since 1981 the team with the most rushing yardage is 28-5 in this series. Since 1981 Auburn is 17-1 vs. Mississippi State when averaging at least four yards per rush and 7-8 when the Tigers don't.

*Auburn will likely find it difficult to run against Mississippi State on a consistent basis. This means Marshall and his receivers will have to play well in the passing game. Since 1986 Auburn is 15-0 vs. the Bulldogs with a pass rating of at least 125.0 and 5-8 when held under 125.

*Auburn must be competitive on first downs or face the possibility of struggling on offense. During the last 22 meetings against Mississippi State the team with the better average on first downs is 19-3 in the series.

*It will be important for Auburn to play well early. From 1992-2013 Auburn is 13-1 against the Bulldogs when leading or tied at halftime and 2-6 when they trail at the half.

What to watch...

The media will focus primarily on the two offenses and the quarterbacks, but the better defense will likely make the difference in this game. Mississippi State has a slight edge in its front seven, but Auburn has been more consistent overall.

Dak Prescott is one of the hottest quarterbacks in the country going into Saturday's game.

Mississippi State has been more effective on first down plays and tackles for loss than Auburn. Both offenses are good at generating explosive plays so the battle on first down will be a key matchup this Saturday.

Which team handles adversity this Saturday will be a key factor? Auburn has taken just nine of 363 snaps while trailing on the scoreboard and Mississippi State has taken only 25 out of 385. Auburn’s close battle on the road against Kansas State could make a difference for the Tigers.

Auburn has been more consistent on third down plays on both sides of the football. This could be a major factor in the outcome of the game.

During Malzahn's four previous games vs. Mississippi State his offense averaged 22.5 points by halftime. Another strong start will be critical considering his offenses have averaged only 10 second half points per game against the Bulldogs.

Can Auburn break its third quarter drought this season? The Tigers have averaged only five points per game during the third period, a major decline from the 12 points averaged during the other three quarters.

Final Word...

Looking at the scoring averages and margins of both teams vs. FBS competition favors the Tigers. Auburn has scored 77.9 percent more than its opponent has allowed while its defense has held opponents to 59.3 percent below their scoring average. Mississippi State is 69.0 percent on offense and minus 40.5 percent on defense. Taking the scoring margins vs. scoring averages, it translates to a 34-17 Auburn victory and a closer Auburn victory of 25-24. Average those two scores and Auburn wins 29-20. If you look at conference games only it favors the Tigers again. It projects an Auburn victory of 58-14 and 31-29. Average the two scores and Auburn wins 44-21.

The level of parity in the Southeastern Conference may have reached an all-time high this season. I cannot recall a season when the SEC West would be settled with major showdowns against Mississippi State and Ole Miss. Even though Auburn and Mississippi State play one another every year this is truly the first time this game could actually decide which team wins the West Division. The average score in this series is 28-24 from 2009-2013 despite Auburn holding a 4-1 record in the series. Added to this matchup is the fact both teams are beginning to play at their best football and you have the making of a monumental showdown.

This game will be extremely physical and most of the statistical data and matchups project a very close result. The two previous conference opponents for both teams is a possible omen to what might take place in Starkville this Saturday afternoon. Auburn's margin of victory in its conference games is 29 points and Mississippi State is 11. Mississippi State has entered a stratosphere of success and media attention the Bulldogs have never reached during the modern era of college football. Are they truly ready from a mental standpoint to play a game of this magnitude?

Players on this Auburn team have plenty of experience from last season playing in games just like this. There is no doubt Mississippi State will be physically prepared for this showdown, but I like the Tigers’ edge in the emotional and mental components of this game. Auburn 30, Mississippi State 23

Around the Southeastern Conference:

Georgia over Missouri
Kentucky over La. Monroe
Tennessee over UT-Chattanooga
Alabama over Arkansas
LSU over Florida
Vanderbilt over Charleston Southern
Ole Miss over Texas A&M

Season Record: 45-9

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