StatTiger: Analyzing Auburn at Miss. State

Stuart Carter (StatTiger) previews and analyzes the numbers regarding Auburn's first road trip of the year to Starkville and predicts the winner of the SEC football opener for both teams.

Auburn (2-0 Overall, 0-0 SEC)
Mississippi State (1-1 Overall, 0-0 SEC)

All-Time Record Versus Auburn: 25-53-3

Mississippi State Statistics:

Yards Per Game153.5221374.524 ppg
NCAA Rank60636475

Yards Per Game63.5145208.516 ppg
NCAA Rank16271739

In 2007 Mississippi State ended a streak of six consecutive losing records with an 8-5 season and a Liberty Bowl victory over Central Florida. This included a road victory over the Auburn Tigers. Of the 18 teams that finished the 2007 season with less than 330 yards per game on offense, Mississippi State was the only team that possessed a winning record. The Bulldogs' blueprint for success consisted of a strong defense, 1,000-yard rusher and 28 forced turnovers.

Anthony Dixon rushed for 1,066 yards and 14 touchdowns last season and currently has 171 yards on 36 carries through two games this season. Once again, the Bulldogs are relying on defense and their running game to succeed in 2008. The Bulldogs lost their season opener against Louisiana Tech but bounced back this past weekend against Southeastern Louisiana.

Last time out...

The Bulldogs notched their first win of the season with a dominating victory over Southeastern Louisiana, 34-10. Mississippi State had more than 400 yards on offense, holding the Lions to just 148 yards. Coach Sylvester Croom found the balance on offense he was searching for as the Bulldogs had 216 yards rushing and 185 passing. The Bulldog defense held the Lions to 33 yards rushing.

The Tigers perhaps ended their rotating quarterback experiment, allowing Chris Todd to start the entire first half of the Southern Mississippi game. Except for two red zone fumbles, the Auburn offense flourished in the first half, gaining 229 yards while building a 14-0 lead. The Tigers extended their lead to 24-0 during the third period but the Golden Eagles finally got on track with their offense to make the score more respectable.

About Mississippi State.

The Mississippi State offense continues to be built around the running game, which is lead by Anthony Dixon, who has more than 1,900 career rushing yards. Dixon has rushed for at least 80 yards in 14 of the 27 games he has appeared in for MSU. Quarterback Wesley Carroll will make his 16th appearance as a Bulldog this Saturday but his career has been inconsistent as the starting quarterback. During his career Carroll has completed 53 percent of his passes for 12 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Brandon McRae leads the Bulldogs in receiving with 12 receptions for two touchdowns and could cause some match up problems for Auburn with his 6-4 frame.

Tailback Anthony Dixon is tough to bring down.

Linebacker Dominic Douglas leads MSU in tackles with 13 stops after two games. The Bulldog defense is seventh in the conference in tackles behind the line and Keith Fitzhugh leads the conference with two interceptions. The Bulldog defense continues to improve under coach Croom, currently ranked 17th in total defense. Last season they finished the season ranked 21st nationally, and 41st the year before.

Mississippi State is currently ranked 92nd nationally in punting, 101st in punt returns and 81st in kick-returns. Adam Carlson is two of three in field goals, connecting on all six extra point attempts.

About Auburn...

Auburn offensive coaches are hoping to build on the Tigers offensive performance from the Southern Mississippi game, minus the turnovers. Todd got into rhythm very quickly, connecting on 14 of 19 passes for 167 yards in the first half. It will be important for Todd to start off strong as he makes his first start on the road. Ben Tate leads the Auburn offense in rushing with 6.6 yards per carry. Auburn is currently averaging 226.5 yards rushing per game, which is good for 25th in the nation. Once again, Rod Smith leads the Tigers in receiving just as he did in 2007.

The Auburn defense is currently No. 12 in the nation with tackles for loss, No. 28 in total defense and No. 6 in scoring defense. The transition to Coach Paul Rhoads has gone smoothly thus far as Auburn's defense is ranked higher than the Texas defense coached by Will Muschamp. Jerraud Powers is having a stellar season, leading the team in tackles and interceptions. Six of the top seven leading tacklers behind the line are down lineman, making Auburn's front four a team strength.

Clinton Durst is currently one of the nation's top 20 punters, averaging 43.7 yards per punt. Wes Byrum has hit four of his five field goal attempts and Robert Dunn is No. 6 in the nation with 24.4 yards per punt return.

Final Thoughts...

On paper Auburn should be heavily favored to win in Starkville this Saturday, but that was the case last year as well. During Croom's first three years at Mississippi State, the Bulldogs were 3-7 in games decided by seven points or less. Last season, the Bulldogs went 4-0 in close games, a clear indicator his players have bought into Croom's program. Once again, MSU will be a very physical team, sound on defense but still lack the talent to be a major player in the Southeastern Conference. For this reason, winning the turnover battle can make this game closer than it should .

For the season, Auburn is +3 on offense and –16 on defense in terms of scoring margins. Auburn's offense has averaged three more points per game than what their opponent normally allows and the opponent has been held to 16 points below their normal scoring average. The Bulldogs are –2 on offense and -.5 on defense, giving Auburn a decisive edge in scoring margins.

The best probability for Mississippi State to pull the upset again, will be a ball control offense and an attacking defense. Look for the Bulldogs to rely on a power running game peppered with a high percentage passes to their backs and tight ends. Time consuming drives by MSU will take the Auburn offense off their rhythm. Mississippi State doesn't have to be reckless on defense to put pressure on Todd. Auburn has allowed only three sacks in the three games under Tony Franklin. Tackling on the spot and limiting Auburn to a minimal amount of yards after contact will limit Auburn's scoring opportunities.

Under Franklin the Auburn offense has not been rolling thunder in terms of scoring. The Tigers scored 17 points in regulation against Clemson, 20 offensive points against ULM and 27 against Southern Mississippi. However, it does indicate Auburn is moving in the right direction. Despite four turnovers, Auburn managed to score 27 offensive points, something that would have been considered impossible the last two seasons. From 1992-2007 Auburn was 7-15-0 when turning the ball over four times or more.

The last three trips to Starkville have been good to Auburn with an average victory margin of 40-9 but Auburn is still attempting to establish their offensive identity, while Mississippi State has proven to be an opportunistic team. Both defenses will make stopping the run a priority, which leaves Todd vs. Carroll if both defenses succeed. A quick start by the Auburn offense will pave way to a convincing win and a slow start will only build the confidence of the Bulldogs.

Scoring averages and margins, indicate an Auburn victory of 30-3 at best and 20-9 with a few problems. Take the average of the two scores and...

Auburn 24, Mississippi State 6

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