"I think they are going to come in trying to run the ball," McNeil said. "They have got two great running backs. They have just been throwing the ball because they have been behind."
McNeil said the Tiger defense will stick with its theme of trying to make the opposing offense one-dimensional by relying on the passing game. "If we can do that, we should be fine," McNeil noted. "They are going to come in and try to run the ball right between the tackles. I think we should be ready for the challenge."
Kickoff time is 1:30 p.m. on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Auburn brings a four-game winning streak into the contest and is 4-2 overall and 3-0 in SEC games. The Bulldogs have a two-game winning streak and are 2-4 overall, 1-1 in the conference.
On Thursday at the football complex, Coach Tommy Tuberville and his assistants put their team through the final practice prior to facing Coach Jackie Sherrill's Bulldogs. The Auburn coach is 2-2 vs. Sherrill in head-to-head matchups vs. the Bulldog coach after dropping the first two meetings. Counting his seasons at Ole Miss when Mississippi State was the chief rival, he is 4-4 vs. the Bulldogs and Sherrill, who is in his 13th season as head coach in Starkville.
In addition to stopping Nick Turner and Jerious Norwood, who give the Bulldogs a strong one-two punch from the tailback position, the Bulldogs feature a veteran quarterback in Kevin Fant, who is having a strong season. He has been the Bulldogs' No. 1 offensive weapon with his 1,542 yards passing with 12 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He has been sacked an average of three times per game and the Auburn defensive staff would like to see their team raise that average.
Tuberville said is expecting more passes than McNeil is predicting. "We feel like they are going to throw it three-fourths of the time," he said. "We are pretty good against the run and just looking at what they have done--I think they had 95 plays against Memphis--they line up in a lot of shotgun and throw the ball down the field. They have a good fifth-year quarterback and their strength is their skill people. I am sure we are going to see a lot of passes so pass rush is very important. And, we are going to play a lot of people."
The Tigers drilled in shorts for two hours on Thursday putting the final touches on the game plan. Defensive end Jay Ratliff, who has been out of action with a high ankle sprain since being injured at Georgia Tech, missed the workout because he had to leave campus due to the death of his grandfather. The defensive end is expected to be back in time for Saturday's game.
Tuberville called the week of practice a good one and said his team's spirits are high. "We worked on every phase very hard," he said.
McNeil said from watching video of the Bulldogs from early in the season he noted that MSU has lost confidence in games in which they started slowly. "In their first four games (all losses) of the season they got down early and it seems they lost a lot of their emotion," the Auburn senior said. "At the beginning of the games they come out and move the ball well, but when something goes bad it goes bad for them the rest of the game. Early on they are going to be a tough ball club to stop."
In the four losses, the Bulldogs are minus 2.25 per game in turnover ratio. In the past two games, both wins, the turnover ratio is plus 1.0.
"They are going to try to run the ball and we are going to try to run the ball and see who the better men are," McNeill said. "Hopefully, we will be on Saturday, but we have to go out there and prove it."
Game Notes: Tailback Ronnie Brown (hamstring) and fullback Brandon Johnson (shoulder) practice on Thursday and are expected to play...The contest will be televised on a pay per view basis in the state of Alabama and is available to C-Band satellite users by call 1-800-TV-STARS and it can be ordered by Dish Network on channel 463. AU has won 23 of the 28 games vs. Mississippi State played in Auburn...Jackie Sherrill's record at MSU is 75-69-2 in 13 seasons while Tuberville is 34-21 in his five seasons at Auburn...The Bulldogs feature one of the top receivers Auburn will play this year. Senior Justin Jenkins, who is from Pearl, Miss., leads the SEC in catches per game (6.67) and receiving yardage (103 per game). He is fifth in the conference in scoring at 7.3 points per game. The senior has caught a touchdown pass in five of his team's six games...The Bulldogs have been bothered by turnovers with 19 in six games while taking the ball away only 12 times...When MSU has moved into scoring territory, the Bulldogs have normally come away with points. On 21 trips into the red zone, the Bulldogs have 16 touchdowns and three field goals, one fumble lost and one interception...The Mississippi State defense has had problems on third downs. Opponents are converting 41 percent of the time.
Auburn senior linebacker Karlos Dansby is one of 11 semi-finalists for The Butkus Award, which is presented annual to the nation's top college linebacker. The field will be trimmed to three finalists on Nov. 13th and the winner will be announced on Dec. 12th. Dansby is the only SEC player under consideration. "Karlos Dansby and Dontarrious Thomas are outstanding people, not just players," Tuberville said. Thomas did not make the semi-finals cut. "Karlos is a very instinctive player," Tuberville said. "He will make a play when it doesn't look like he is going to make one and he makes them all over the field. He is very active." The head coach added that he believes Dansby has a chance to win the award...Tuberville said he hopes for a loud crowd on Saturday because Mississippi State likes to change plays at the line of scrimmage with a fifth-year senior quarterback.