Game Two Scouting Report

The Game: Mississippi State ventures away from home for the first time, and opens conference play, as the Bulldogs visits SEC West rival Auburn. Kickoff is 11:38 a.m. (CT) with regional telecast by Jefferson-Pilot Sports.

*This is the first league contest for both teams. The Bulldogs are 1-0 after defeating Murray State, while the Tigers are 0-1 after falling 23-14 at home to Georgia Tech.

*Auburn began the year 15th and 16th in the major national polls, but the debut loss cost their top-20 status in each as well as a 15-game winning streak dating back to November 2003. Still the Tigers are the defending SEC champions and have a ten-game streak in league games. Mississippi State is looking to end a three-year losing string in West play, having not won a Division game since 2001.

*Mississippi State did snap an eight-game losing streak in games shown by J-P in last October's upset of Florida. Overall, MSU is 16-17 in J-P broadcast games, since 1992, and 2-2 against Auburn in games shown by the regional SEC network.

About the Tigers: OK, we'll get the obvious out of the way. This is not the same Tiger team that roared through 13 victories in 2004, earned the SEC Championship, and ended the regular season third in the B.C.S. standings. Tommy Tuberville's sixth Tiger team could not play for the official national crown but in many minds were at least a co-#1 at season's end—"they'd have gotten my vote," MSU's Sylvester Croom says. That's history now, and so are key personnel in that perfect season, especially on offense. Certainly no attack could lose a quarterback and both running backs to the NFL and not miss a step or two. But in the letdown of finally losing a game Tiger fans might be a bit too harsh in early evaluations. Auburn did have one more first down and a 392-313 margin in yardage. Turnovers did the damage, most notably the four interceptions tossed by soph QB Brandon Cox in his first start. His 342 passing yards were the best-ever by a Tiger in his debut though he had to chunk the ball 44 times (22 complete) to do it. That's more balls than he had thrown all last year in relief. Cox definitely has some big-play makers to target. Senior Ben Obomanu has 14 career TDs, while he and Courtney Taylor already have 1,000 career yards each. Not only are these guys fast but they're more physical than the typical pass-catchers, particularly with Anthony Mix a 6-5, 248-pounder running routes. Oh, and never forget that Tuberville loves using tight ends as receivers and Cooper Wallace is a good one. Most of the offensive line is back and all reports of their sheer size are correct; LT Marcus McNeil not only stands out physically, at 6-9, but as an Outland Award candidate. With LG Ben Grubbs also back the left side is stout, and RT Troy Reddick will start his 28th-straight game. Juniors Joe Cope and Tim Duckworth have been promoted at C and RG, raising the line's average bulk to 315 pounds. Give Tre Smith credit for sticking around in the shadow of Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams, and after missing nine games with a 2004 shoulder injury. He might not be a first-round draft but the junior can run as his experience in kick return shows. Don't forget about South Carolina transfer Kenny Irons, either. To repeat, reports that the Auburn offense left for the NFL are greatly exaggerated. The defense might have a few more concerns than initially expected from Tuberville's pre-season remarks, though, after allowing 139 ground yards to Georgia Tech and not forcing a fumble. The starting line had to be rebuilt but at least there were seasoned guys to do it with, as juniors Marquies Gunn and Stanley McGlover took over at the ends and senior Wayne Dickens stepped in at tackle. It helped having T.J. Jackson back for a senior year at nose guard, and he and Dickens both bring 300 pounds of interior muscle so the ends can use their speed. Speaking of velocity Carlos Rogers is finally graduated to the pros, yet there is plenty of linebacking experience left. There's not just one but two senior Williams in this corps, and both OLB Antarrious and MLB Travis are preseason All-SEC candidates, and while Kevin Sears was a '04 starter on the strong side Karibi Dede is the #1 going into this weekend. FS Will Herring got his junior year off to a great start with 13 tackles against Tech, and his '04 backup Eric Brock is now the starting SS. Only one cornerback graduated but both positions have new starters with soph Patrick Lee beating out vet Montavious Pitts on one side and senior David Irons holding the other corner. This group might not repeat as the nation's #1 scoring defense but they will hold their own against just about any offense in '05 if the run-stopping improves. Auburn also had no less than 11 penalties on opening night, another concern. Kody Bliss is a much better punter than his 38.0 average in the opener, and John Vaughn was 12-of-15 on field goals last season.

The Series: The respective state's ‘aggie' schools first got together for a game of football 100 years ago, in 1905. Interestingly, that first meeting was in Columbus, Miss., and many of the ensuing games were also played at city stadia Birmingham, Montgomery, and Jackson. Since 1981 though all games have been on the campuses. Auburn won the first game a century ago, then the next nine until State finally got on the scoreboard in 1927. The Tigers have maintained their advantage and hold a 54-22-2 lead, though Bulldog victories in 1976 and '77 were later forfeited along with a 1974 tie score. Auburn has win streaks of 11 (1964-74) and nine (1982-90) in the modern era, while State's longest win string is seven from 1941-48. From 1997-2000 the Bulldogs notched four wins, but Auburn has taken the last four contests. Auburn leads 24-5 in games played at their home. Sylvester Croom is 0-1 against the Tigers as a head coach, while Tommy Tuberville is 6-4 against State, 4-2 as Auburn coach.

Tiger Notes: Tuberville has the third-longest tenure among active SEC coaches at 11 years. At Auburn, his teams are 20-5 in September games. But he is just 6-4 in SEC openers at Mississippi and Auburn.

*Despite all the well-publicized losses from 2004, Auburn is a veteran team with 15 seniors on the '05 roster. Eleven of these are listed as position starters for this weekend.

*A couple of Auburn receivers are likely looking forward to another shot at Mississippi State. Anthony Mix and Ben Obomanu both have three touchdowns in games against Bulldog defenses. And back Tre Smith has 99 yards in two games against MSU on just nine carries.

*The most notorious game between State and Auburn was that 1975 meeting in Jackson, and not just because the teams battled to a 21-21 deadlock. Then-Tiger coach Doug Barefield complained afterwards about the racket from MSU fans' cowbells, blaming the noise for disrupting play. The next spring, at the SEC annual meeting, the infamsous ban on ‘artificial noisemakers' at SEC games was proposed and voted in over Mississippi State objections. However, the actual legislation was offered by Alabama.

*Jordan-Hare Stadium is the eighth-largest campus facilty in the country, but only the fifth-largest in the Southeastern Conference.

Connections: As neighboring state universities there are plenty of players on each roster who crossed the border to play college ball, but right now the trend definitely seems to flow to the west. No less than 17 Bulldogs are natives of Alabama, while only four Mississippians wear Tiger uniforms: DE Quentin Groves (Greenville), OT Tim Duckworth (Taylorsville), SS Steve Gandy and FB Mike McLaughlin (Waynesboro). The latter two played with State DE Willie Evans at Wayne County HS.

*There aren't nearly as many connections in the coaching staffs, considering how many Bulldog aides played or worked at the University of Alabama. But defensive line coach Brick Haley worked with Auburn tight ends coach Steve Ensminger at Clemson in 1998.

Bulldog Record Watch: Halfback Jerious Norwood rolled up 123 yards in the season-opener, his ninth career 100-yard effort in 37 games. Norwood now has 2,209 career rushing yards which is tied for 7th on the MSU list with Dicenzo Miller (1998-2001). Just 75 more yards will give him sole possession of 5th on the chart. Norwood has taken aim at the mark set by Walter Packer (2,820) in 1973-76. Norwood ran for 394 yards as a freshman, 642 in 2003, and 1,050 last season, the fifth-best year ever for a Bulldog back.

*Tight end Eric Butler took only 11 games to tie the Mississippi State record for touchdown catches at his position. His scoring grab against Murray State gave Butler five TD, matching the total of Treddis Anderson from 1989-91. Butler had four TD catches in ten freshman games which set the season record.

*Quarterback Omarr Conner tied the MSU mark for game-touchdown passes with four against Murray State, and now shares the standard with Derrick Taite (vs. both Tulane 1994 and Memphis 1995) and Tony Shell (Georgia 1988). Conner now has 11 career touchdown throws in 10 games and finally owns a positive TD-to-intecept ratio.

*In his first year of kicking PATs, Keith Andrews was a perfect 21-of-21. He added five more points-after in his '05 opener and now needs 11 more PATs to match the MSU record for consecutive good kicks set by Kinney Jordan in 1975-76 of 37. Andrews is 7-of-11 on field goal tries.

*DE Willie Evans needs one more sack to move into the career top-ten. He has 10.5 in three-plus seasons, just half-a-sack behind Kevin Henry and Wesley Leasy at 11.0 each.

Freshman Faces: No less than nine true freshmen made their college debuts in Mississippi State's opening game: WR Aubrey Bell, DE Charles Burns, LB Jamar Chaney, OG Anthony Dunning, CB Keith Fitzhugh, OT Michael Gates, FB Brandon Hart, P Blake McAdams, CB/KR Derek Pegues. None were position starters, but McAdams was the #1 punter and Pegues the #1 kickoff returner.

*Also, -- redshirt freshman saw their first varsity action last week: LB Fred Akines, S De'Mon Glanton, OG Dio Herrera, RB Demarcus Johnson, TE Jeremy Jones, LB Anthony Littlejohn, WR Jamayel Smith, OG Anthony Strauder, OT Roland Terry, and RB Brandon Thornton. Littlejohn and Strauder both started the game. And while both saw one-game action in 2004 as true freshman, QB Michael Henig and WR Keon Humphries still count as redshirt freshmen after getting the year back on medical appeal.

*Juco transfer DT Antonio Johnson also played in his first college game on Saturday.

Gene's Page Top Stories