StatTiger: MSU at Auburn Preview

Stuart Carter (StatTiger) breaks down Saturday's game as the Mississippi State Bulldogs and Auburn Tigers kickoff at 11:30 a.m.

Mississippi State 1-1

Offensive Numbers: 317.5 yards per game (138.0 rushing, 179.5 passing), 19 points per game
Defensive Numbers: 295 yards per game (121.0 rushing, 174.0 passing), 31 points per game

Record Against Auburn: 24-52-3

2006 Record: 3-9 Overall, 1-7 SEC

103rd Total Offense (286.8 ypg)
97th Scoring Offense (18.4 ppg)
41st Total Defense (321.3 ypg)
83rd Scoring Defense (25.7 ppg)

Since posting an 8-4 record in 2000, the Mississippi State Bulldogs have not won more than three games during a season. Over the last six seasons, Mississippi State has compiled a 17-52 record. State fans are hoping this will be the season the Bulldogs finally make a move within the conference, but they have a long haul in front of them. The Bulldogs were crushed 45-0 during their season opener against LSU, but bounced back to defeat Tulane 38-17.

Last time out...

Mississippi State rolled up 489 yards against the Tulane Greenwave last Saturday including 266 yards on the ground. Sophomore running back Anthony Dixon rushed for 131 yards and two touchdowns and Michael Henig passed for 223 yards on 20 completions against Tulane.

The last time State recorded consecutive victories during a season was in 2004, when it defeated Florida and Kentucky.

Auburn is coming off a disappointing 26-23 overtime loss at the hands of the South Florida Bulls. For the second week in a row the Auburn offense struggled, this time accounting for five turnovers. Two weeks into the season Auburn is ranked 101st in the nation in total offense and 74th in scoring offense. Brandon Cox is currently ranked 97th in the nation in terms of pass efficiency.

About Mississippi State...

Coach Sylvester Croom has brought discipline back to the Mississippi State football program and his defenses have been fairly consistent considering how bad the Bulldogs have performed on offense. One of the glaring weaknesses with the MSU offense has been their passing game.

Michael Henig appeared in seven games last season, completing only 44 percent of his passes while tossing nine interceptions. Though Henig has improved his completion percentage in 2007 to 51 percent, he has already thrown seven picks in two weeks of action.

Quarterback Henig is from Montgomery's Jeff Davis High School.

Anthony Dixon gives the Bulldogs the ability to establish a running game, combining size, power and a little bit of speed. In 2006, Dixon rushed for more than 100 yards against Alabama in a major upset and Ole Miss during a very close defeat. Wide receiver Tony Burks is a dangerous threat to make the big play for the Bulldogs. Last season Burks averaged more than 24 yards per catch on 35 receptions and he's currently leading the team in receiving in 2007.

Dominic Douglas and Jamar Chaney lead the Bulldog defense in tackles from their linebacker position. Douglas also leads the team in sacks and tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Chaney recorded 64 stops during the 2006 season. Punter, Blake McAdams is currently averaging 36.2 yards per punt and place-kicker Adam Carlson has made only one of three field goal attempts, continuing his struggles from 2006 when he converted on only six of 12 attempts.

About Auburn...

In the last 16 games the Auburn has been out-gained in total yardage nine times. This includes a current streak of five games in which the opponent has gained more yards than Auburn. Auburn has 581 total yards after two games, which surpasses only the 1999 (575 yards) and 2003 (394 yards) Auburn offenses under Tommy Tuberville. The Tigers have scored only three offensive touchdowns, which is better than the 2003 team that failed to score any touchdowns after two games.

The Auburn coaching staff is well aware of the problems on offense, but finding a solution and resolving the issues might be a different story. Most of the focus has been on quarterback Brandon Cox, but Coach Al Borges is quick to point out that there are other problems that need to be addressed. The offensive line remains a work in progress and the wide receivers have not performed consistently. Mario Fannin added a punch to the running game last week but he also left the ball on the ground two times.

Despite the number of injuries on defense, Will Muschamp's unit has played very well considering the situations they have been thrown into. Last week against the Bulls, Auburn turned the ball over five times but the defense prevented the Bulls from scoring a single point from the miscues. There is no telling just how good the Auburn defense can be when healthy and hitting on all eight cylinders.

Special teams have been a pleasant surprise with so many new faces in the lineup. Ryan Shoemaker, who is likely out this week after suffering an elbow injury, is averaging 45.1 yards per punt and Wes Byrum is six of seven field goals. Robert Dunn is currently sporting a 13-yard average on punt returns, including two returns of more than 20 yards.

Final Thoughts...

Despite the support of his coaching staff, all eyes will be on Brandon Cox this week. During his career as the starter Cox has played very well against Mississippi State. He has completed 67 percent of his passes for an average of 10 yards per attempt to go along with four touchdown passes and no interceptions. Should he continue to struggle this week, it might be another indication a change is in order.

Borges announced some changes at the receiver position and Tim Hawthorne will have an opportunity to make an impact on the field. The passing game will need to succeed this week because Mississippi State will certainly sell out to stop the run. Auburn rushed for only 111 yards in 2006 and was held to 118 in 2005 against the Bulldogs.

In order for Mississippi State to consistently move the ball and to score points, the Bulldogs will have to establish their running game. If Henig is put into one too many obvious passing situations, the Bulldogs will have a long day against the Auburn defense. The Bulldogs best chance for success on offense would be a quick and short passing game on first down to open up the running lanes and to give Henig a much needed boost of confidence. On defense, you can expect to see a lot of eight and nine man fronts by the Bulldogs.

On paper, this is a game Auburn should be able to win on talent and depth alone, especially playing at home. Tuberville is conservative by nature, relying on sound defense and special teams to protect a conventional offensive approach. Unless disaster strikes, Auburn will be patient on offense, which should translate into a low scoring game. Auburn's defense should be able to keep the Bulldog offense under 14 points without any major miscues.

This is a big game for Auburn for several reasons. Not only is it a conference game, it's a divisional game too. If Auburn fails to work out its offensive problems at home against Mississippi State, how much improvement can be expected against the likes of Florida and LSU on the road? If Auburn can take care of the ball this week and the defense performs at the same level, Auburn should win. But the coaches, players and fans want more than just a win; they want to see major improvement on the offensive side of the ball. The offensive line and running game improved from game No.1 to game No. 2. It's time to see the passing game carry it's own weight.

Auburn 24, Mississippi State 10

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