Mississippi State Preview | An Early-Season Must-Win

Will Gene Chizik be celebrating another win over Mississippi State?

"This is SEC football and it's only played one way" is something we are all very familiar with Coach Chizik saying. The problem is, when it comes to Auburn playing Mississippi State, we never really know what way football is going to be played. Over the last ten match ups we have seen a game decided by one football point and one settled by thirty four. The average point differential over these match ups has been 19.2. No one is expecting a difference of 19 points tomorrow. The all-time average point differential between these two teams is 8.4, and we will see an average Auburn vs. Mississippi State game played.

Mississippi State began its 2012 campaign with a 47 point victory over Jackson State. They will close out the month playing three schools from Alabama. Remember when they forced us to have a morning game at Jordan Hare? Next week they are playing AT TROY at 7 p.m.. If the cowbells don't make you angry, let that sink in. Of course, we all know how Auburn opened up this season. Clemson is certainly no Jackson State but it will be interesting to see how Mississippi comes out following a win against an Auburn team coming off a loss. Well, I guess last week's Mississippi State entrance proved that maybe it doesn't even really matter how they come out. There is no doubt that Auburn's defense has taken a lashing from Brian VanGorder this week and we can only hope that they let Mississippi State know all about it.

Which team will be awake and ready to go at 11 a.m.? Which team will exit the locker room and run on the field without any missteps? Will more than five points be on the scoreboard at the end of the fourth quarter? Will Megan Mullen finally get the victory she wants more than any other? Is the barn burning? Let's take a look at both sides of the funny shaped ball after the jump.

AUBURN OFFENSE VS. MISSISSIPPI STATE DEFENSE

It all starts up front with the line. The Auburn offensive line will probably look something like this: LT: Greg Robinson LG: John Sullen C: Reese Dismukes RG: Chad Slade RT: Avery Young. Both Robinson and Young had very good games last week, especially Young who had what Scot Loeffler called "An unbelievable block" on the touchdown pass to Emory Blake. Which is the main reason we believe Young earns the start or at least the bulk of the playing time at right tackle Saturday. If he doesn't then Slade or Sullen would move out to tackle with Kozan or Westerman moving in to play left guard. Robinson played very well in his first start at left tackle - minus a few penalties - but as far as blocking and schemes go, he was very good and he will only get better. Look for the offensive line to be better in week 2 and really try to overpower Miss St. Getting Dismukes bag is huge in terms of talent and schemes, and provides a true leader on the offensive line. Auburn will benefit from him being back, especially on the road in the SEC. (Those cowbells are really, really annoying.)

The line will be doing work for Kiehl Frazier, who wasn't terrible against Clemson, but he wasn't great either. The good thing is that, for the most part Kiehl made very good reads, the ball just sailed on him at times. He looked very comfortable in the pocket most of the game, and his footwork was above average. He did get some happy feet at times, and that was the main cause of his bad throws. He showed flashes of exceptional arm strength and, when he settled his feet, hit his receivers in stride. He was only 11-27 and that is not an acceptable completion percentage, but look for Kiehl to be a little less excited this week and hit more of those open receivers. The only interception last week came on an armpunt on 3rd and long although there was a very close call on a screen pass. Other than that. Kiehl made good reads and made good decisions. Mississippi State has a very good secondary, so he will need to continue to make good decisions with the ball.

Both Onterio McCalebb and Tre Mason had very good games last week, I was especially impressed with how much more physical O-Mac was running the ball. Don't get me wrong, he's no Ben Tate between the tackles, but he was getting north and south and not shying away from contact like we are used to seeing. He still has to be smart, and pick and choose his times to take those hits because of his size, but seeing him be a little more physical was a good site to see. Tre Mason ran really well and was exceptionally explosive through the hole, which should surprise no one. He showed flashes of that last year and just carried it over into 2012. Once Mason sees a hole, he explodes through it and gets north and south as quickly as possible - he was one arm tackle by the ankles away from breaking a 99 yard run last week. If Mason gets in the open field he is very dangerous and tough to bring down, if he gets a step, he's running for a long time. Look for another heavy dose of McCalebb and Mason this week with Mike Blakely likely to get a few carries. The strength of Mississippi State's defense lies in the secondary, so look for Auburn to try to establish the running game early and often. Jay Prosch will be our wild card this week. The fact that he is putting on a uniform will give all of the backs a boost and we all look forward to seeing him doing whatever it takes to get Auburn a win.

With that said, we need for multiple receivers to be threats. Auburn has to have another wideout step up opposite Emory Blake. Emory has proven he is one of the top wideouts the SEC has to offer, and defenses have taken notice. He sees double teams, bracket coverage, slanted coverage, just about anything the other defense can throw at him to force the quarterback to find another target. We'll lump the tight end position into here, and when you think tight end at Auburn, you think Lutzenkirchen. Phillip is without a doubt another weapon in the passing game, but Auburn still needs that other wideout who can stretch the field and take some of the pressure off of Blake. As stated earlier, State's secondary is their strength, and Jonathan Banks is an All-SEC performer at corner. He will almost definitely be covering Blake, Lutzenkirchen almost always demands a safety when he's running routes, which means Reed, Stallworth and Bray will have their opportunities to get open against the rest of the secondary, they have to take advantage and give Kiehl Frazier another target in the passing game.

AUBURN DEFENSE VS. MISSISSIPPI STATE OFFENSE

Auburn's pass rush was terrific last week, and with better tackling, and any other quarterback besides the big and mobile Tajh Boyd, Auburn ends up with a lot of sacks. Well, the Tigers will have their chances again this week, as they will be the much more talented group when they line up across from State's offensive line. Tyler Russell will get the nod at QB for the Bulldogs and doesn't have anywhere near the wheels of a Tajh Boyd. If Auburn can get to Russell like they did Boyd, it will be a long day for the State quarterback. Auburn's ends lived in the backfield last week, especially Dee Ford and Corey Lemonier, who bought a second home in the Clemson backfield. LaDarius Owens also showed flashes of the player Auburn expected when they recruited him. The interior defensive line was pushed around a little, especially in the second half as Clemson's pace began to take it's toll. You may see some hurry up from the Bulldogs this week, but nothing like what Clemson through at Auburn last week. Chad Morris, along with Boyd, have that offense clicking on all cylinders. Look for the interior line to be much improved this week since you know they have heard all week how they were pushed around last week. It also helps when you don't have to see Andre Ellington lined up in the opposing backfield, that guy is a terror to bring down as Auburn found out first hand. State has above average running backs, but none the caliber of Ellington. Brian VanGorder will likely stick to his aggressive play-calling across the defensive front, which means Auburn will probably be in the backfield a lot, but unlike last week, must finish the play.

For Auburn's defense to be truly successful against the run, the Tigers' linebacking unit will have to be much improved. Against Clemson, Auburn's 'backers were rarely able to provide much run support. They were often out of position and missed tackles when they happened to be in the right place. A few rushes up the middle by Ellington could have been held to 2- or 3-yard gains, but the poor linebacking play allowed them to go for much bigger yardage. VanGorder has said he'll dish out playing time based on who produces and not necessarily who has the most knowledge of schemes. One can't help but wonder if that will affect Auburn's linebacker rotation. If Jake Holland, Jonathan Evans and Daren Bates aren't getting the job done, we could see younger players thrown into the mix.

One of the biggest disappointments of the Clemson game was Auburn's secondary play. We all knew the linebackers would struggle, but the defensive backs had been getting good reviews from the coaches during fall camp. Unfortunately, they were plagued by poor tackling, too, and safeties Jermaine Whitehead and Ryan Smith were unable to make much of an impact on the passing game. State doesn't have nearly as many top-shelf receivers as Clemson, so the secondary's job will be a little easier this week, and the pressure Auburn's ends put on Russell should produce some bad throws. Nevertheless, Auburn's coverage must be better than it was last week. Chad Bumphis is an excellent wide receiver with plenty of experience, and if Auburn isn't careful, he could torch the Tigers.

SPECIAL TEAMS

It's week two. We proved in week one that we can kick field goals. There are zero worries when it comes to special teams for us. With that said, we don't know what to expect from Mississippi State. They played a blowout game last week so it is hard to judge. Both teams will have to use more strategy in terms of special teams this week as it should be a close game. One thing we do hope is that all of Auburn's points don't come from the kicking game - unless of course Mississippi State only scores two.

INTANGIBLES

  • Cowbells. It doesn't matter how loud Auburn made it at practice this week, the cowbells will still be a factor.
  • Swagger. I hate the word as much as any of you, but it will be obvious very early on if Auburn shows up looking like they feel sorry for themselves over last weekend. Personally, I think we will forget about that one at kickoff tomorrow.
  • Jay Prosch. There are no words to explain what he is going through right now and what tomorrow's game will me for him. his family and his teammates.

PREDICTION

First off, we'll predict that Gene Chizik doesn't wear sleeves. We'll also make the prediction that he doesn't wear the glasses we saw him patrolling the Georgia Dome sidelines in. Most importantly, we predict that Auburn pulls off a victory by a score of 27-23. The defense will still have some tackling issues, but the offense pulls us through. There is too much character on our coaching staff and in our locker room to predict that we lost two games in a row -- but if we do, expect it to be close and a heartbreaker.

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