In a win over Louisiana Tech last week the Auburn Tigers scored 37 points and racked up 556 yards of total offense. Under Dan Mullen's direction, Mississippi State scored 45 points and had 410 yards of total offense. It was the most points for a Bulldog squad since 2002 and makes for an interesting dynamic as Auburn will try to slow down an improving offense Saturday night at 6 p.m. in a game that will be televised by FoxSportsNet.
The Bulldogs enter Saturday's game after a solid start in the season opener against Jackson State, rushing for 238 yards and two touchdowns while adding 172 yards and three scores through the air. Defensively they allowed just 194 yards of total offense in a 45-7 win.
Offensively the Bulldogs split the quarterback duties between Tyson Lee and Chris Relf with a lot of success. Relf led the team in rushing with 82 yards while adding 75 yards through the air on 7-10 passing with all three touchdowns. Tyson Lee is the more experienced of the two and could be considered the starter although Relf made a case for that job with his play in week one. Lee had 97 passing yards with three yards rushing in the opener.
Both bring some things to the table with Lee the field general and Relf the playmaker with the ability to make good things happen running or passing. The question for Saturday is how will Mullen handle the quarterback rotation. In the opener they alternated series and that could be something to watch for Saturday night to see how the snaps are broken down.
Perhaps the biggest thing to watch for this week is the return of senior running back Anthony Dixon after a one-game suspension to start the season. Running backs Christian Ducre and Arnil Stallworth got the duties against Jackson State with 13 carries for 60 yards, but the 6-1, 235 Dixon will be the load this weekend. He enters the 2009 season with 2,603 career yards rushing, a school-record 653 rushing attempts and also holds the school record with 30 rushing touchdowns.
With Dan Mullen coming to MSU from Florida, the role of Percy Harvin will likely be played by shifty Robert Elliot. Last week he ran 11 times for 80 yards and a touchdown and caught one pass for 15 yards. Helping him in the role will be freshman speedster Chad Bumphis. He caught two passes for touchdowns in the opener and the 5-11, 185-pounder is a threat to take it the distance every time he touches the ball. Tight end Marcus Green (6-1, 235) led the way with three catches for 40 yards as the Bulldogs had nine different players account for the 16 receptions in the opener. Brandon McRae (6-4, 200, Sr.) is MSU's most experienced receiver with 11 career starts and 26 games played.
On the offensive line the Bulldogs have plenty of experience with senior Craig Jenkins (6-5, 315) at right guard while juniors J. C. Brig none (6-2, 300) and Derek Sherrod (6-7, 310) anchor down center and left tackle respectively. Those three have combined for 55 starts in their careers. Throw in left guard Quentin Saulsberry (6-3, 300), who despite being just a sophomore, has already started a dozen games in his career and you have an experienced group. Rounding out the starting five is right tackle Addison Lawrence (6-2, 295), who started his first game last week in the win over Jackson State.
Defensively linebacker Jamar Chaney is a dominant defender for the Bulldogs with almost 200 career tackles in the maroon. At 6-1, 245, he's a load to handle in the middle and is still shaking off the rust after missing last season. Alongside him are a pair of 245-pounders as well in K.J. Wright and Chris White. Both have outstanding range with Wright showing the ability to get to the quarterback.
Up front the Bulldogs are a solid group with seniors Kyle Love (6-1, 310) and Charles Burns (6-1, 275) anchoring the middle. Outside Pernell McPhee is a physical presence at 6-4, 275 while redshirt freshman Nick Bell (6-3, 250) anchors the opposite end.
In the secondary Marcus Washington (5-10, 190) returns as a starter at cornerback and is the veteran of the group as the only senior. Junior Zach Smith (5-11, 200) starts at free safety while sophomores Damein Anderson (5-11, 195) and Charles Mitchell (5-11, 205) round out the starting secondary for Mississippi State.
There is no question that both Auburn and Mississippi State will be better than they were last season because of improvements on the offensive side of the ball. Just how much better will likely be determined Saturday night. Auburn will play West Virginia next week and then travel to Tennessee two weeks later. A struggle with the Bulldogs likely means a tough road ahead for Chizik's club.
Meanwhile Mississippi State will travel to Vanderbilt next week to face an improving Commodore program and then take on LSU and Georgia Tech at home the following two weeks before taking on Houston for homecoming. The Bulldogs have a tough road ahead and are a better team, but five turnovers from Jackson State last week helped to break open what was a fairly close game in the first half. Unless Auburn helps that much this week look for the Tigers to enter week three a perfect 2-0.