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StatTiger Column: Analyzing Mississippi State at Auburn Game

Stuart Carter crunches the numbers and writes about what to watch while predicting a winner for Auburn's home SEC football game vs. Mississippi State.

Dak Prescott (above) is the main man for the Mississippi State offense.

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

Series Record: Auburn leads 61-25-2

Last Meeting: Mississippi State, 38-23

About the teams:

  • Coach Dan Mullen is in his seventh year at Mississippi State, compiling a record of 48-32. Gus Malzahn is 31-11 all time and 22-8 at Auburn.
  • Auburn is coming off a 45-21 loss to LSU and Mississippi State is coming off a 62-13 victory over Northwestern State.
  • Mississippi State defeated Auburn last year, 38-23 in Starkville. 
  • The Bulldogs are 3-7 during their previous 10 visits to Jordan-Hare.
  • Dan Mullen and Mississippi State are 2-4 vs. Auburn.
  • MSU returns five starters on offense and four on defense.
  • Under Mullen the Bulldogs are 22-27 in conference play, including a 9-14 record on the road.
  • The Bulldogs return 27 players with at least 20 games of experience, the most in the Southeastern Conference.
  • MSU quarterback Dak Prescott is off to a great start, completing 65 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and no interceptions. Auburn’s Jeremy Johnson also has five touchdown passes, but has six interceptions through three games, one of the reasons Sean White is scheduled to make his first start at quarterback for the Auburn Tigers.
  • Ashton Shumpert leads the Bulldogs in rushing with 123 yards. Peyton Barber leads Auburn in rushing with 274 yards at 5.07 yards per rush.
  • Fred Ross (15 receptions) and De'Runnya Wilson (11) lead Mississippi State in receptions. Ricardo Louis leads the Tigers with 14 receptions followed by Duke Williams with seven.
  • Linebacker Richie Brown leads the Bulldogs with 26 tackles on the season and A.J. Jefferson leads MSU with 5.5 tackles for loss. Auburn has three players with 26 tackles or more, led by Rudy Ford with 34 stops.

How they match up...

During the previous six meetings with Mullen's Bulldogs, Auburn has averaged 406 yards and 27 points per game to Mississippi State's 391 yards and 26 points per game.

Once again Auburn’s defense will face an athletic quarterback capable of making plays on the ground and through the air. Prescott will likely be the pivotal player to watch.

Mississippi State’s running game was held in check against LSU, but the Bulldogs rushed for more than 200 yards in their other two games. Defending the run in conference play has been a major issue for the Tigers since the 2010 season. Auburn  has allowed an average of 206 yards rushing during its last 34 conference games. 

Both teams have struggled defending the run this season, and Auburn is currently dead last in the Southeastern Conference defending the run. 

The Bulldogs have the more veteran roster, which gives Mississippi State the edge in moments of adversity. Auburn has the fewest number of players with 20-games of experience in the Southeastern Conference.

Keys to Victory...

Auburn has struggled throwing the football vertically this season. The Tigers have thrown seven interceptions against MSU during the last three meetings. Auburn must be able to run the football effectively or likely struggle putting points on the board.

Auburn enters the game averaging 329 yards and 26 points, which means the Tigers cannot afford to lose the turnover battle against the Bulldogs. 

Malzahn’s team must get off to a better start against Mississippi State than it did the past two weeks. Through three games Auburn has scored only 10 combined points in the first quarter and 13 during the second quarter. During the six meetings against Mullen's Bulldogs, Auburn is 0-2 when held scoreless during the first quarter and 4-0 when the Tigers score during the opening period. 

Malzahn's Auburn offense is 19-1 in SEC play when rushing for at least 200 yards and completing at least 57 percent of it passes.

Mississippi State under Mullen is 8-20 in conference play when its offense is held under 170 yards rushing. 

What to watch...

  1. From 1992-2014 the team with the better running game is 17-6 in this series.
  2. Since 1981 Auburn is 2-8 vs. Mississippi State when the Tigers throw at least two interceptions. The Bulldogs are 1-8 vs. Auburn when throwing at least two interceptions. The Bulldogs hold a significant edge in quarterback experience, which will likely play into the outcome of this game.
  3. Since 2000 Auburn is 43-7 in conference play when reaching at least 45 rush attempts.
  4. Can the Auburn defense control Prescott? He has been directly involved in an average of 42 snaps per game running and throwing the football. He has accounted for 62 percent of Mississippi State's total yardage or 302 yards per game.
  5. Look for Auburn to feature all four running backs with the intent of producing more impact plays. Roc Thomas leads the team with five of the 12 impact plays. Auburn has featured the running backs more than normal in the pass offense to make up for the lack of a vertical passing attack.
  6. Look for Ricardo Louis, Stanton Truitt and Jason Smith to be involved in the run offense to keep the receivers involved in the offense. This could be the game Auburn returns the “wildcat” formation.

Final Word...

 This is a critical showdown for both teams, having lost a conference game already. The loser of this game is likely out of the SEC West race, but Auburn needs this victory more so than the Bulldogs. As poorly as Auburn has played this could be the game that turns the season around or send it spiraling out of control from another poor performance. Publicly the Auburn coaches and players are saying the right things, but it is clear this team has a fragile psyche from its performance over the last 10 quarters. This youthful squad is in dire need of performing well in order to buy into what the coaching staff has been preaching.

Malzahn has elected to make a quarterback change this week, turning to White, the redshirt freshman. Coming into game four Auburn's receivers are averaging only 9.7 yards per reception and have accounted for only two impact plays. Auburn must break the current drought in generating explosive plays, which means White will be called upon to deliver consistency to the throwing the football. This is a daunting task for a young quarterback not expected to start in 2015.

Jason Caldwell

Sean White and the Tigers will kick off Saturday's game shortly after 6:30 p.m. at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

The game plan for White will likely be conservative in nature with a high number of short passes to get his feet wet. It will be vital for the running game to get off to a quick start to give validity to the play-action pass. 

From what we have witnessed through three games, talk of winning a conference championship needs to be shelved. The coaching staff needs to treat the nine remaining games as nine separate seasons with the goal of improving from one week to another. Short term goals and individual improvement need to be the point of emphasis for the Auburn Tigers moving forward. 

To become more consistent Auburn’s focus should be on execution and scheme responsibility. I still believe there remains enough fight in this team to win its home conference opener, but it will certainly take a team effort to beat a solid Mississippi State team. The better defense and more experienced quarterback will be wearing white and maroon and should be enough to thwart off an emotional performance by the Auburn Tigers. Mississippi State 30, Auburn 24.

Around the Southeastern Conference:

No. 7 Georgia over Southern

No. 8 LSU over Syracuse

South Carolina over UCF

Tennessee over Florida

No. 12 Alabama over UL Monroe

No. 3 Ole Miss over Vanderbilt

No. 14 Texas A&M over Arkansas

Kentucky over No. 25 Missouri

Season Record: 28-6

 


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