Double Trouble

A look at a key matchup for the Auburn football Tigers as they prepare for an important SEC West showdown on Saturday night.

Auburn, Ala.--Mississippi State's running back tandem of Dicenzo Miller and Dontae Walker form quite a one-two punch in the backfield for the Bulldogs

On four different occasions last season each rushed for more than 100 yards in the same game. Miller had six 100-yard efforts in 2000 and Walker had five as the pair combined for 19 rushing touchdowns.

Miller, at five-foot-ten, 207 pounds, is the speed back who can also show some fortitude between the tackles. Walker, at five-foot-ten, 225 pounds (and perhaps more), has more a bruising style of running.

Auburn defensive tackle Spencer Johnson says it is hard to differentiate between the two. "Dontae Walker brings a more power-package to the game. Don't get me wrong, both of them are powerful, but I think Dicenzo brings a little more speed to the game. He is a powerful running back, too. He's quick, both of them are quick. Both are great running backs and they're going to get in there and pound the ball."

The duo's best effort last season came against Florida when they rushed for 328 yards and two touchdowns in the Bulldogs' 47-35 win at Scott Field. That was last year though. Fast forward 12 months. That dynamic one-two punch was relegated to a single punch after Miller suffered a sprained ankle in his team's 16-14 loss to South Carolina two weeks ago. The injury forced him out of the lineup for the Bulldogs' matchup with Florida and his status is questionable for the Auburn game this Saturday. The senior was sorely missed as Mississippi State could only muster 44 yards on the ground vs. the Gators with Walker getting just 19 yards on 10 carries. It was a far cry from last season when Miller got 44 of his 172 rushing yards against Florida on a second-quarter touchdown run.

Spencer Johnson and the Tiger defense will look to shut down the Mississippi State ground game.

Miller was one of just four backs to rush for 100 yards against the 2000 Tiger defense. In four games, the 2001 AU defense has already allowed two players, Syracuse' s James Mungro and Vanderbilt's Lew Thomas, to cross the century mark in just four games. Thomas zig-zagged for 173 yards last Saturday, which was more than any rusher got last season against the Tigers in the regular season. Mungro burned the Tigers for 142 yards. The six touchdowns the Orangemen and Commodores rushed for in the last two games equals the amount of rushing touchdowns the Tigers yielded all of last season.

Part of the reason Miller had success against the Tigers is the same reason backs like Thomas and Mungro have had success this season--poor tackling. Head Coach Tommy Tuberville counted 30 missed tackles in the game vs. Vanderbilt.

"You can't miss tackles against the caliber of running backs like Dontae Walker and Dicenzo Miller," Johnson says. "First of all, they are hard runners and they will break tackles, but we have to wrap up and swarm to the ball to make sure they don't break tackles. If they do break one, someone needs to be already there to give up no more yards. It's up to us, our defense, to swarm and get to the ball."

Auburn's rush defense did not start out this poorly. In its first two games against Ball State and Ole Miss, the unit allowed just 55 yards a game. Syracuse and Vanderbilt bumped that total up to 126 yards per game.

The challenge should be a good one for the Tigers with Mississippi State coming into the contest in a must-win situation to salvage the season after an 0-2 SEC start. With their backs to the wall, Johnson predicts that the Bulldogs will concentrate on what they do best and that is running the football. "They threw the ball more than I would expect against Florida, but they also ran the ball," the Auburn defensive tackle says. "They didn't get away from what Mississippi State football is. They kept trying to run the ball against the Florida defense." (Of the 44 offensive plays the Bulldogs ran vs. the Gators last week, 26 were running plays. )

Miller, who rushed for 136 yards vs. the Tigers in 2000, performed much better than Walker did vs. Auburn. Walker had just 12 carries for 27 yards, but Johnson says the Tigers respect him, too. "Really, we can't think about Dicenzo or who is going to be back there," Johnson says. "Our main focus is stopping whoever is back there, if it be Dontae Walker or Dicenzo. We just can't worry about if he is going to be back. If he's back, we have to stop him. If he's not, we have to stop Dontae."

The matchup of the Auburn rushing defense vs. the MSU running backs should be of prime importance in determining the winner and determining which streak lives and which dies--Auburn's 10 straight victories at Jordan-Hare Stadium or State's four straight victories vs. the Tigers. If the Tigers can prevent Walker or Miller or both backs from doing what they have in the past to SEC competition, the four-game losing streak to the Bulldogs could end for the Tigers and they could extend their home-winning streak to 10 games which is something Johnson says will be in Tigers' favor for Saturday night's 6 p.m. kickoff with the Bulldogs at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

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