Without question, this is a must-win game for Mississippi State. I hate to place that label on any game this early in the season, but for State to have any chance of playing in Atlanta they have to win, and win now. It won't be easy on the Plains, although the Dogs have won four in a row against the Plainsmen, including the last two at Jordan-Hare Stadium. If State can muster up whatever it takes to get a victory, then we can begin talking about certain scenarios and what-nots that will give the Dogs a berth in the big game. But if they play like they've played the last couple of weeks, the Dogs will get burned. This team is reminding me of last year's Alabama club in the sense that things will spiral downward quickly if State falls flat on its face Saturday. Keep in mind that Jackie's troops have been beaten soundly before. Georgia drubbed them 47-0 in '97, a week before the famed 20-0 upset that State put on #11 Auburn. And LSU whipped us 41-6 in '98, and State rebounded to win the West. But this year is different in the fact that the expectations for those teams were not nearly as high as they were back in August. Hopefully MSU can pull this one out and get back to fighting again.
Very young and inexperienced....had to replace main offensive threats from last year....underclassmen have accounted for 97 % of rushing yards and 69 % of receiving yards....will balance the run and the pass, but have had some success through the air....running backs are still trying to find their groove....this is a ball-control type of offense....the running backs are by committee.
Who's Hot: Jason Campbell. The red-shirt freshman has completed 65 % of his passes and has remained poised, giving Auburn chances to win games.
Who's Not: Auburn on 3rd downs. The Tigers have converted just 33 percent of their third down chances.
AUBURN'S OFFENSIVE BACKFIELD
QB 17 Jason Campbell (6-4, 218, RFr)....59-91 for 758 yards, 3 TDs, 2 INTs through four games....started all four....was 15-19 for 142 yards vs. Ole Miss....ranked 24th nationally in passing efficiency (141.3)....carried the ball 26 times for 92 yards.
RB 23 Ronnie Brown (6-1, 226, RFr)… 42 rushes for 198 yards, 1 TD....did not play versus Vanderbilt because of a turf toe injury, and sat out the second half versus Ball State because of a shoulder injury....leads the team in rushing....4.7 yards a carry.
RB 22 Casinious Moore (6-0, 220, So.)....46 carries for 175 yards, 3 TDs....averaging 3.8 yards a carry....scored all three touchdowns against Ole Miss....has five catches for 69 yards....backed up Rudi Johnson last year.
RB 24 Carnell Williams (5-11, 193, Fr.)....20 carries for 105 yards in 3 games....sat out Ole Miss game because of an ankle injury....bounced back last week versus Vandy with 6 rushes for 56 yards and 2 TDs (5.2 ypr)....has four catches for 48 yards.
FB 45 Brandon Johnson (6-0, 231, So.)....5 carries for 26 yards, 0 TDs....primarily a blocking back....plays some snaps on defense, at linebacker.
WR 80 Marcell Willis (6-1, 184, Jr.)....Held out of the first two games because of a sprained foot....5 catches for 96 yards, 0 TDS....caught 4 passes for a career-high 87 yards versus Vandy last week.
WR 2 Tim Carter (6-0, 191, Sr.)....13 catches for 146 yards (11.2 avg)....had best game against Ole Miss (5-57)....leads team in catches....ranked 28th in nation in kick return average (26.2).
WR 86 Deandre Green (6-1, 225, So.)....9 catches for 93 yards....had best outing versus Ole Miss (5-57).
TE 49 Lorenzo Diamond (6-3, 250, Jr.)....2 catches for 12 yards....very strong downfield blocker....will hurt you with catches if you aren't careful....a Biloxi native.
AUBURN'S OFFENSIVE LINE
LT 73 Kendall Simmons (6-3, 314, Sr)....Named to the Playboy and Football News preseason All-America Team....Preseason All-SEC selection.
LG 75 Hart McGarry (6-5, 290, Sr.)
C 68 Danny Lindsey (6-2, 297, Fr.)....playing in place of injured Ben Nowland, who was everybody's pick for preseason All-SEC.
RG 79 Mike Pucillo (6-4, 305, Sr.)
RT 65 Moreko Crittenden (6-5, 350, So.)....largest player on the team.
Has shown an unexpected vulnerability against the run so far… has allowed just 18.2 per game… giving up 259 yards a game, 126 on the ground and 133 through the air… linemen are big and strong, but haven’t put up big numbers yet… linebackers are the strength of the team… secondary is very young and inexperienced… has been stingy at times, but has given up big plays (Syracuse, Ole Miss, and at times, Vanderbilt).
AUBURN'S DEFENSIVE LINE
LE 96 Javor Mills (6-6, 270, Sr.)....hasn't had the break-through season that was expected of him, yet....10 tackles, 1 for a loss....started 10 games last year.
LT 92 DeMarco McNeil (6-2, 295, So.)....great pass-rusher....15 tackles, 3 for loss....started all 13 games last year, recording 5 sacks.
RT 53 Spencer Johnson (6-2, 280, So.)....13 tackles so far....forced a fumble and recovered another versus Ole Miss.
RE 51 James Callier (6-1, 241, Sr.)....saw limited playing time the last two seasons after starting 7 games as a freshman....totaled 10 tackles, 2 for a loss so far this year.
JLB 54 Dontarrious Thomas (6-4, 220, So.)....has recorded 54 tackles through four games, four for a loss....has 1 QB sack....averaging a team-best 13.5 tackles per game, and has 25 more than anyone else on the team....State must find him and block him!
MLB 41 Tavarreus Pounds (6-1, 245, Sr.)....second on the team with 29 tackles....recorded double-digit tackles the last two games....has started 17 games in his career.
WHIP 11 Karlos Dansby (6-5, 218, So.)....saw his first career start last week versus Vandy....has recorded 8 tackles, 2 for a loss....missed most of preseason practice with a sprained knee.
ROV 37 Rashaud Walker (5-10, 200, Jr.)....has 5 tackles, one for a loss....held out of Ball State game and did not start versus Ole Miss because of an ankle injury....started all 13 games last season.
LC 36 Roderick Hood (5-10, 193, Jr.)....started at rover first two games....has 11 tackles, 2 for a loss, and 1 QB sack....returns kicks.
RC 5 Travaris Robinson (5-10, 188, Jr.)....22 tackles so far this year....started just one game last year.
FS 8 Stanford Simmons (6-2, 197, So.)....20 tackles, 1 for a loss so far....intercepted a pass versus Ole Miss....has started 11 games over 3-year career.
AUBURN'S SPECIAL TEAMS
PK/P Damon Duval (6-1, 186, Jr.)....6-9 in the field goal department so far....he is just 1-3 from 20-29 yards....kicked a 51-yarder earlier in the year and connected from 49 yards out to give Auburn the lead last week....is averaging 44.6 yards a punt and has nailed 7 punts inside the 20 yard line....was named to several preseason All-America teams.
STATS OF NOTE
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
This one is big. Very big. If State can come together as a team, they can vie for the West. If they don't, Auburn will ring their bell Saturday. I expect the Bulldogs to right the ship, somewhat. Because of the home-field advantage that Auburn will have, I think this is a toss-up. We will find out how much character these Bullies have. If they come prepared to play, they could wipe Auburn out. But conventional wisdom says this one will be like most of the others in the recent history - close. Hopefully State finds a way, any way, to get it done.
Mississippi State 20
Aaron Sones is a free-lance correspondent for Gene's Page. Aaron, who is a student at Mississippi State University, works part-time in the MSU Athletic Department. He is also co-host of WFCA FM 108's Gameday show which airs two hours prior to each football game. You can contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.