Auburn at MSU: What To Watch

Auburn begins SEC play at Mississippi State on Saturday at 6 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPN2.

When Mississippi State has the ball: All eyes will be on the Bulldog quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Woody McCorvey calls his system the West Coast, but in the season opening 22-14 loss at Louisiana Tech it looked closer to the spread with a large portion of the snaps being passes out of the shotgun. Second-year signal caller Wes Carroll didn't respond well to it, completing just 12-25 attempts and throwing three interceptions. Junior college Transfer Tyson Lee, a smaller and elusive QB, is expected to split snaps and is more likely to tuck and run than go through his progressions. However, Lee has been the more accurate of the two through two games completing 13-18 for 112 yards and no interceptions.

When Auburn has the ball: Again, the quarterbacks will be a primary focus. How will Chris Todd react in his first road game? How will he handle being the starter? Will Kodi Burns play? If so, how much? The Tigers' offense has yet to take form, and with the quarterback race finally settled the offense may suffer some typical early-season blunders.

MSU may not have the speed on defense of teams like LSU and Georgia, but the athletes are better than Auburn has faced so far this year. It'll be interesting to see if Auburn's receivers can make plays on the edges. If not, that could be a bad sign for the Tigers in the first year of the spread offense.

For Mississippi State to pull off the upset: The game plan must be executed the same way it was in last year's 19-14 shocking MSU victory if the Bulldogs are to pull it off again. Anthony Dixon and Christian Ducre pounded the ball on the ground while the defense forced Auburn into five turnovers. In State's loss to Tech to start the 2008 season, Dixon carried 18 times for 91, Ducre had three for 12, and third-stringer Robert Elliot had zero carries. That put the pressure on the QBs to make plays, which didn't turn out well. In the Bulldogs' 34-10 week two win over Southeastern Louisiana, the same three carried 33 times for 154 yards while the passing attempts dropped from 40 to 27. A solid ground attack alone won't be enough for MSU to beat Auburn, but it is a start and a must.

What Auburn needs to do to take care of business: Auburn has turned the ball over five times in two games, including four against Southern Miss last Saturday. Especially after last season, it's an unnerving trend that can't continue through SEC play if the Tigers are going to have a shot at getting to Atlanta. That all starts in the SEC opener on Saturday in Starkville, where the Tigers have won their last three games by an average score of 39.7-9.3.

Mississippi State player to watch: State could arguably be 2-0 right now if safety/return specialist Derek Pegues had not been suspended for the Louisiana Tech game. His replacement at punt returner, Jamayel Smith, dropped a punt late in the game that was recovered by Tech and shortly thereafter turned into seven points. Pegues is a sure tackler at safety, and for a team lacking offensive firepower he'll need to make a difference in the return game.

Also, Jamie Jones started last week at middle linebacker in place of Jamar Chaney, who broke his leg against Louisiana Tech. Jones was credited with one tackle against Southeastern Louisiana.

Auburn player to watch: Robert Dunn. MSU struggled to contain La. Tech's Phillip Livas, a small and quick slot receiver/punt returner in the opener. Similar in style, Dunn is leading the SEC averaging 24.4 yards per punt return.

Worth noting: Auburn has won 14 of its last 15 SEC openers and 15 of 16 in the road white uniforms.


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