Mississippi State 2005 record: 3-8
Offensive Numbers: 138 rushing / 138 passing / 276 total / 14 points per game Defensive Numbers: 141 rushing / 194 passing / 335 total / 23 points per game Returning Starters: Offense: 8 / Defense: 9
Against Auburn since 1999:
Record: 2-5 (Auburn has won the last five games)
Auburn Numbers: 183 rushing / 152 passing / 335 total / 29 points per game
Mississippi State Numbers: 92 rushing / 206 passing / 298 total / 13 points per game
Last time out...
The Mississippi State Bulldogs picked up right where they left off last season during their season opener against South Carolina. The Maroon defense played very well, holding the Gamecock offense to 274 yards and 15 points, but Sylvester Croom's offense continued to fester in mediocrity. Starting quarterback Michael Henig is out with a collarbone injury leaving redshirt freshman Tray Rutland as the new starter. Except for one offensive possession that netted 51 yards against the Gamecocks, Mississippi State averaged 9.5 yards per possession in its season opener. Take away the Gamecocks' best two offensive possessions, the MSU defense held South Carolina to 14.4 yards per possession.
Auburn was far more impressive in its season debut, defeating Washington State 40-14. The Tiger offense gained 484 yards led by the combination of Kenny Irons and Brad Lester. Auburn's defense held the Cougars to 274 yards, but gave up two plays over 40-yards due to mental mistakes. Brandon Cox was efficient against the Cougars, but it was the running game and solid defense that carried the Tigers to victory. Coach Tommy Tuberville wanted his team to get off to a good start and the players delivered against Washington State.
Coach Sylvester Croom enters his third season as the Bulldog head coach, hoping to see an overall "team" improvement. If last Thursday night is any indicator of what to expect from Mississippi State, this could be a long afternoon for the Bulldogs.
MSU might have found a replacement for running back Jerious Norwood in Anthony Dixon, who had 14 carries for 54 yards in his collegiate debut. However, the true freshman broke his hand in practice on Tuesday, which means that sophomore Brandon Thornton will get the bulk of carries against Auburn. Thornton, out of Homewood High in the Birmingham area, rushed for 225 yards on 47 carries while backing up Norwood last season and he rushed for just 25 yards on nine carries in the opener.
The Bulldog front seven is actually very good led by linebacker Quinton Culberson and will be a stronger test than the Washington State defense. Last season the Bulldog defense held Auburn to 320 yards and 16 first downs.
Quinton Culberson is an All-SEC caliber player.
Defensive Coordinator Ellis Johnson doesn't blitz very often but his defense is very physical and sound in its assignments. He will scheme to make Auburn work for everything it gets and stopping the Tiger running game will be priority No. 1. MSU was able to apply a consistent pass rush on South Carolina, racking up four sacks during the game. Even when the Gamecocks were able to get off the pass, the Bulldogs were laying the lumber on the opposing quarterbacks.
Keys to the game…
* Mississippi State's offensive strength is the running game. If the Bulldogs cannot establish the run, they will find it difficult to score on offense unless they are playing on a short field.
* Rutland will make his first start against one of the top programs in the country. Keeping the game plan simple will help him gain confidence. Putting him in a spread formation or moving him out of the pocket will be essential. The Bulldogs need to pass when they want to and not when they have to.
Omarr Conner could see action at both wide receiver and quarterback this week.
The Bulldogs need to sell out to stop the Auburn running game. Last year the Bulldogs held Auburn to 118 yards rushing, which kept them in the game until late in the third quarter.
* Mississippi State is clearly overmatched on both sides of the ball so specialty teams could be very essential in keeping the Bulldogs in the game. MSU will need to play on a short field if they are to score.
* Coach Al Borges is resorting to his blueprint from the 2004 season when he took advantage of the athletic ability of Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown. Cory Boyd of South Carolina rushed for 93 yards on 12 carries, adding an additional 67 yards on four receptions against Mississippi State. The combination of Irons and Lester will be difficult to stop.
* Last week the plan was to force Washington State to run to take away the pass and this week it's to force MSU to pass to take away the run. If the Bulldogs have any chance to be competitive they will have to establish some type of running game. Coach Will Muschamp will likely bring the heat to frustrate Rutland early and often. South Carolina sacked the Bulldogs quarterbacks five times, which should turn into a highlight reel for the Auburn Tigers.
* With Mississippi State's strength in its front seven, it might be difficult to run on the Bulldogs early. Brandon Cox completed 67 percent of his passes on first down last season and was eight for eight against Washington State. Mixing up the run and pass ratio on first down would increase the opportunity for Cox to be successful and to open up the running game.
* Coach Borges will more than likely remain "vanilla" on offense again this week because of the strength of the opponent. This will require patience on the part of the players because the Auburn offense will be forced to work for what it gets.
Games often come down to matchups and the Mississippi State Bulldogs should match up well against the Auburn offense for at least a half. The problem for the Bulldogs is their offense is usually unproductive and their defense will eventually be asked to do too much. There should be no doubt Auburn's coaches did a fabulous job preparing the team for the season opener, but the mark of a championship team is the ability to do it week after week.
The Auburn coaching staff has emphasized the importance of being a more physical team in 2006. How physical Auburn has become will be decided this Saturday in Starkville.
Normally there might be concern about the emotional level of both teams as they prepare for their second game. Auburn could be sky high coming off a big victory and the Bulldogs will be focused on the desire to prove themselves after losing to South Carolina. Since Borges arrived on the Plains, Auburn is 13-0 coming off a 20-point victory with an average score of 38-14. In fact, Auburn has followed up a 20-point victory with another 20-point victory in 8 of the 13 games.
There is no history of an offensive letdown under Coach Borges after a big win so don't expect one this weekend. Unless Auburn implodes in Starkville, 20 points should be enough to win this game, which is why the Auburn coaching staff might call a conservative game plan. It might keep the Bulldogs in the game longer than expected but the end result will be a victory.
Auburn had six scoring drives against the Bulldogs in 2004, but only three in 2005. The difference was Auburn's ability to run the ball, which should play a major factor in this year's contest. The Bulldog defense is better than the first two years under Croom, which could make this game closer than some might think. With the rule changes affecting the game clock there will be fewer opportunities to score. With a higher ratio of run plays on both sides of the ball, both squads could be limited to just nine to ten offensive possessions. Six scoring possessions is likely the maximum for Auburn. Hopefully, it will be more touchdowns than field goals, so split the difference…
Auburn 30, Mississippi State 7