Auburn vs. Mississippi State preview: Q-and-A with For Whom the Cowbell Tolls

Bob Levey

It's the SEC opener, and it's a chance for the Tigers to break a 10-game conference losing streak.

Auburn and Mississippi State kick off their respective SEC campaigns Saturday night at Jordan-Hare Stadium. To get a better idea of what to expect from the Bulldogs, we traded questions and answers with Metal Building Dawg of SB Nation's State site, For Whom the Cowbell Tolls. You can find our answers to his questions here.

College and Magnolia: Mississippi State put up 51 points and 556 yards against Alcorn State, but against a real opponent in Week 1, the Bulldogs compiled 333 yards and three points in a loss to Oklahoma State. Which performance is closer to the real MSU offense?

Metal Building Dawg: The Oklahoma State game was bad all around, coaches and players. Execution, penalties, play-calling, everything. The Alcorn State game was just overmatching an opponent, however play-calling was different with the use of mobile quarterbacks. I think the answer lies somewhere in between, but it may also depend on who plays QB, and the jury is still out on who will.

CaM: Tyler Russell is expected to play, but if he can't or if he's still not 100 percent, how badly will that hurt the Bulldogs' chances?

MBD: There is a growing segment of the MSU fanbase, including myself to an extent, that believes Tyler Russell is actually holding the offense back. He is pro-style drop-back guy with no mobility, which Dan Mullen has had trouble adjusting to. He is a good passer, but the play-calling seems to be rudimentary and conservative when he is in the game. Dak Prescott fits Mullen's system like a glove and the offense flows better as he brings the read option, which is the bread and butter of Mullen's preferred style. I think there is MUCH more concern about Russell being able to play rather than unable to play in this game.

CaM: MSU's defensive line looks to be for real. How good is the Bulldogs' defense as a whole this season?

MBD: So far the early returns show this is a very good group. You can't tell much from a game against the SWAC (although they absolutely dominated), but this D forced OK State out of their aerial attack and into an option running game.

The front seven is the strength, in particular the linebackers. There is good depth, as well, which bodes well against a hurry-up offense.

CaM: What individual or unit matchup favors Mississippi State the most?

MBD: This is an interesting question, because I really think this game matches a lot of strength vs. strength and weakness vs. weakness. If I have to pick one, though, I'll go with MSU's overall pass defense vs. Nick Marshall and the Auburn receivers. State's secondary has taken a beating early on and is certainly replacing a bunch of talent from last year, but they've still got a lot of talent left and have fared really well in the passing game so far, and one of those games includes Oklahoma State. But mostly I'm taking this matchup because Nick Marshall has never faced a SEC defense, so it will be interesting to see what happens, and I'm betting on my guys.

CaM: Where is State at its biggest disadvantage? What's your biggest concern?

MBD: My biggest concern is probably MSU's O-line vs. Auburn's D-line. State had a lot of trouble handling OSU in the tranches, and while they did have some good DTs, I have little doubt AU's line is better. What's more, the Dawgs lost starting right guard Justin Malone for the year.

CaM: How do you think the game plays out? What's your final score prediction?

MBD: It's so hard to tell with this game every year. First SEC game for both teams, it's always hard-hitting and well-contested (at least the last six years). I'm sure the Auburn faithful will be jacked up for this game, and that may affect MSU's youth.

If this game is any type of defensive struggle, it favors MSU. If it's offense, then Auburn. And really, it could go either way; it's hard to get a firm grasp on exactly where both these teams are right now.

I thought this game was a coin flip going into the season, and I still feel the same way now. So, I'm going to avoid the question and just say I think it will be within a touchdown.

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