What To Watch: Auburn At Mississippi State

We take a look at some of the keys for Saturday's Auburn-Mississippi State SEC West football showdown in Starkville.

Turn Him Loose, Part 2

One thing is certain when dealing with a Gus Malzahn offense while at Auburn, the Tigers are going to try to run the football and force opponents to prove they can stop them from doing it. That will be the case again this weekend against Mississippi State, but with a strong Bulldogs’ front seven making that a tough task it will once again be important for Nick Marshall and the passing game to get untracked early.

That was the case last week in a dominating win over LSU when Marshall threw early and often on the way to 31 first half points. Facing a Mississippi State defense that is allowing 328.2 yards per game through the air, the Tigers will have opportunities for big plays in the passing game and it’s imperative they take advantage of those shots. Allowing 435 yards passing to UAB earlier in the season, Mississippi State allowed 341 to LSU and 365 last week against Texas A&M. Hitting big plays in the passing game will only open up more running room for the Tigers, making for a balanced attack that would be tough to defend for any defense.

Slowing The Dak Attack

There is no question that Dak Prescott has been one of the biggest reasons why Mississippi State is undefeated and ranked No. 3 in the country, the highest rating ever for the Bulldogs. Completing 63.9 percent of his throws for 1,232 yards and 13 touchdowns with just two interceptions, Prescott has been very efficient throwing the football. When you combine that with his running ability (455 yards and six touchdowns) you have one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country.

The good news for Auburn is that the Tigers have already faced a similar quarterback in Kansas State’s Jake Waters. A very good runner in his own right, Waters was held in check by Auburn’s defense, forcing him to be one-dimensional. The goal for Auburn this week is to take away Prescott’s running lanes and make him throw the football to win. That’s easier said than done, but senior Gabe Wright said at least they already have an idea of what it will take to accomplish the feat.

“Going on the road playing a tough team like Kansas State, that should definitely help us in the long run, down the stretch,” the senior defensive tackle said. “Jake Waters was a good quarterback, and we definitely saw him as a dual threat. One of the things you've got to do with those type threat quarterbacks is just take away one of them, make them do one way rather than being able to do both ways at the same time.”

Limiting The Big Play

One of the biggest reasons why Auburn’s defense has improved each of the last three times out is because of the lack of big plays given up to opposing offenses. Making Mississippi State earn everything it gets this Saturday afternoon will go a long way towards a victory when you look at how the Bulldogs are able to strike quickly. This season they already have 12 touchdown plays of 20 or more yards, something that could ignite an already amped-up crowd at Davis Wade Stadium.

Of those 12 plays, 10 came on either a pass or a run by Prescott. Keeping the physical quarterback in check in the running game would be a good start for Auburn, but that’s far from the only concern with the Heisman candidate. With his ability to run and the play-action game a constant threat, Auburn’s safeties are going to need to be on top of their game for the Tigers from start to finish.

Handling The Crowd

With ESPN’s College Gameday on campus and Mississippi State officials expecting over 100,000 people in town on Saturday, Auburn will have to deal with what should be a very tough environment against a talented team. Handling the situation early and not letting the Bulldogs strike first will be important. Under Dan Mullen Mississippi State is 29-5 when leading after the first quarter and 35-1 when leading at halftime.

The good news is that Auburn is used to big situations after playing huge games last season and already in 2014. As for the noise, the Tigers constantly work on being able to run the offense without being able to communicate verbally. That happens from the first day of preseason practice when the doors are closed and the music is cranked up inside Auburn’s indoor facility. Making that feeling second nature is something that should pay off for the Tigers when the cowbells start clanging on Saturday.

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