As we do in so many weeks, we have a Q&A with the writers from a sister site on the SB Nation network. This week's game against Mississippi State has some good ones on both sides. You can read my answers for them over at their site.
1) MSU has had quite the roller coaster this season - as we have, as well - what's the general feeling about the team with the way things have gone so far?
Strained optimism is the phrase I would choose. Most people are growing weary of Dan Mullen's offensive playcalling and his unexplainable tendency to leave young players on the bench despite their talent. He seems like he's lost as far as where to take the offense after losing his true dual-threat QB in Dak Prescott. Nick Fitzgerald was touted as a player with the same traits but I have yet to see much promise in him as a passer. I just would like to see some consistency in production or this "optimism" in salvaging the season will quickly shift to "we're not making a bowl game and we should fire everyone."
2) Nick Fitzgerald is the starting QB and the team's leading rusher. Has that come about more through scrambles or designed runs?
I would say a little of both. A large majority of his rushing yards this season came against South Carolina where he absolutely ran wild. A lot of those were scrambles but a few were zone reads and straight QB draws. Mullen has slowly started to shift toward more designed runs for Fitzgerald but his own lack of trust in his arm leads to a lot of yardage off of scrambles, that is unless the linebackers figure out his weaknesses quickly.
3) What is the strength of Mississippi State's 2016 offense? Defense?
100% our strongest offensive weapon is Fred Ross. He's one of the most experienced receivers in the conference and has the run-after-the-catch ability that truly takes him to the next level as a receiver. He had just over 1,000 receiving yards last season and he's a good bit behind that pace this season so I would expect the coaching staff to start getting him some more touches. Defensively, our strongest set is our front seven. Jonathan Calvin has become an absolute savage on the line along with AJ Jefferson and Jeffery Simmons is learning right behind them. Senior linebacker Richie Brown currently leads the team in tackles and his production doesn't seem to be slowing down anytime soon.
4) Who are the players Auburn fans may not have heard of that they need to be on the lookout for?
Certainly Jonathan Calvin is one. He may not have the statistics to make him jump off the page but his presence on the line will certainly be felt. Leo Lewis is another guy that has an incredible motor and has the potential to blow up the play every time he steps on the field for the defense. Ashton Shumpert would be a guy to look out for at the RB position. Mullen is realizing the Brandon Holloway isn't an every down back and has started to utilize Shumpert's power to run the ball between the tackles.
5) How do you see this game playing out?
One of two ways: it's an absolute slugfest and the total for points scored is less than 24 OR MSU's defense fails to start strong and have to play the rest of the game trying to climb out of a hole. It truly depends on Defensive Coordinator Peter Sirmon and his ability to prepare his defense coming off the bye week and Mullen's ability to manage Fitzgerald as a passer.
Bonus: Do you ever REALLY get used to the cowbell noise?
Yes and no. The pure, piercing sound of a single cowbell in a noiseless area will never fail to make me flinch. But, there's a special calming aspect to hearing a sea of cowbells ringing in unison. It's beautiful. Think about it this way: one kid standing at the front of church singing probably isn't the most beautifully sounding thing, but add 15 more kids singing with them, they're an angel choir. Make Sense?