2009 National Rankings:
Rush Offense: 12th/Rush Offense: 27th
Pass Offense: 30th/Pass Offense: 77th
Total Offense: 10th/Total Offense: 47th
Score Offense: 31st/Score Offense: 18th
Rush Defense: 48th/Rush Defense: 22nd
Pass Defense: 36th/Pass Defense: 27th
Total Defense: 30th/Total Defense: 20th
Score Defense: 37th/Score Defense: 23rd
The Mississippi State Bulldogs are hoping to rebuild their program under first-year coach Dan Mullen, the former offensive coordinator for Urban Meyer and the Florida Gators. The Bulldogs opened their season in notable fashion, doing away with Jackson State, 45-7, in a game the Bulldog offense netted 410 yards.
The Bulldogs are coming off another dismal season, finishing 4-8, and are hoping Coach Dan Mullen can bring his offensive achievement to Starkville.
The Mississippi State offense returns six starters, which includes running back Anthony Dixon, who was suspended for the season opener. Dixon rushed for 869 yards last season and has totaled 2,603 rushing yards and 30 touchdowns in 37 games. Dixon is expected to make his 2009 debut against the Auburn Tigers.
Anthony Dixon could be a key player for the Bulldogs on Saturday night.
Brandon McRae was the Bulldogs' leading receiver last year, hauling in 51 receptions for 518 yards. Mullen has elected to go with a two-quarterback system playing Tyson Lee and Chris Relf against Jackson State. Relf rushed for 82 yards and threw three touchdown passes while Lee passed for 97 yards during the season opener.
On defense, Mississippi State returns only five starters, losing four of their top five tacklers from 2008. Linebacker, K.J. Wright is the Bulldogs' leading tackler returning for the 2009 season.
Linebacker Jamar Chaney was the leading tackler during the season opener, registering five stops against Jackson State. Despite playing a lesser opponent this past Saturday, the Bulldog defense managed only six tackles behind the line of scrimmage, but did hold Jackson State to just 194 yards in total offense.
•Auburn currently holds a 54-25-3 record vs. Mississippi State, including a 38-18-2 mark at home. Since 1981, Auburn is 20-8-0 and 11-6-0 since the SEC expanded to 12 teams.
•In the last 20 meetings against Mississippi State, Auburn has averaged 25 points and 366 yards per game while allowing 15 points and 271 yards.
•During the last 20 meetings against the Bulldogs, Auburn has out-rushed MSU 14 times, posting a 12-2-0 record in those games.
•During the last 20 meetings between the two schools, Auburn has averaged 175 yards rushing to Mississippi State's 107 yards.
•Since 1961 Auburn is 1-5-0 against Mississippi State when the Tigers are held to under 100 yards rushing and 23-3-0 when they rush for over 200 yards.
•From 2002-2006, Auburn averaged 38.4 points per game against the Bulldogs and only 8.5 points in the last two meetings.
Why Auburn should win…
•Based on the quality of competition Auburn's victory over Louisiana Tech was far more impressive than Mississippi State's victory over Jackson State.
•During Auburn's recent meetings with Mississippi State, the Auburn offense had a tendency to struggle, which should not be the case this season.
•This game has normally come down to the better running team and Auburn appears to have the edge in 2009.
•In the last 10 meetings against the Bulldogs, Mississippi State has averaged 93.0 yards rushing on 2.8 yards per carry. If the Bulldogs continue to struggle running the football, Auburn could win this game easily.
•Both teams were horrible on offense in 2008 and based on both team's season openers, there is more reason to believe Auburn has resolved its offensive issues more so than Mississippi State.
Why Mississippi State has a chance…
•During the last two meetings against Mississippi State the Auburn offense has scored a total of two offensive touchdowns.
•Though Auburn will hold an overall advantage in talent when it comes to the starting 22, the Bulldogs will have more depth than Louisiana Tech.
•Just as Louisiana Tech was faced to prepare for a new Auburn offense, the Auburn Tigers will face the same "unknown" situation when they host Mississippi State.
•Auburn had some quarterback containment problems on defense last Saturday and Mullen's mobile quarterback package could continue those problems for Auburn.
Both Chizik and Mullen know the importance of running the football and playing sound run defense, and both teams will scheme to do just that this Saturday. The history of this particular match-up reveals that nothing has changed over the last 20 years despite the wide-open play of college offenses.
Mississippi State quarterback Chris Relf could pose some match-up problems for the Auburn defense as the Tigers struggled, at times, maintaining containment on Louisiana Tech's quarterback. Mullen will certainly use misdirection plays and motion to confuse a speedy defense that could be misguided into over pursuing the play.
Like Malzahn, Mullen will find creative methods of running the football, which means Auburn defenders must maintain their lanes and tackle well against Mississippi State. Auburn has the edge in defense and better skill players on offense, but turnovers and penalties can make this a close game as it almost did last week for the Auburn Tigers.
Once Auburn settled down the Tigers' overall talent advantage and better execution allowed them to dominate the second half. If Auburn simply limits its mistakes this game could be history before the end of the third period if not earlier.
Last week Mississippi State's offense netted 90 yards on 26 plays during the first four possessions of the game. Auburn playing against a better opponent had 161 yards on 32 plays.
On the other side of the football, the Auburn defense allowed 143 yards on 36 plays while Mississippi State allowed 18 yards on 13 plays. Veteran defensive coordinator Carl Torbush makes his return to the Southeastern Conference with Mississippi State following previous stops at Ole Miss and Alabama. He will certainly set up a scheme to try to slow down the Auburn running game.
This is the type of game that big plays on offense and special teams could tilt the flow in favor of one of the squads. Because both offenses will incorporate plenty of misdirection and motion the better tackling team will have a decisive edge. When it comes to Southeastern Conference football, it tends to favor the better defensive team. The fact the Bulldogs have to utilize two quarterbacks to run their entire offense also weighs into the favor of the Auburn Tigers. Auburn 34, Mississippi State 17
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