For just the second time during the first half of the season, Auburn will play away from the friendly confines of Jordan-Hare Stadium. That means one thing...
The stormtroopers are taking the field tonight in Starkville. Auburn busts out the white unis and hits the field against Mississippi State, although tonight’s game has more of a Prequel Trilogy feel than anything else.
Both sides have cause for concern. Auburn’s offense has struggled, particularly on the offensive line, and now with injuries to Prince Tega Wanogho, Jack Driscoll, and running back JaTarvious Boobee Whitlow, the situation is more dire than it was last week when the Tigers struggled against Southern Miss. Add in the news that Will Hastings just underwent another knee surgery and won’t play at all this season, and the passing game has taken a hit as well. Gus Malzahn and company were counting on Hastings to return at some point this season, but that’s now out of the question. There’s no worry on the other side of the ball, however, as the defense has continued to be fantastic and is rated as one of the top units in the entire country.
Jarrett Stidham has played as well as he can with a the shifting offensive line, and he’ll have to adapt again tonight in Starkville. Unfortunately, he’s going to face off against a defense that’s not bad in its own right.
Mississippi State’s unit is ranked not far behind Auburn’s (13.4 ppg allowed — eighth in the country), and the defensive line boasts some studs like Jeffrey Simmons and Montez Sweat. Sweat’s already notched five sacks on the year and he’s going to be looking for more if we’ve got some new tackles in the lineup to protect Stidham.
The bonus for Auburn is that the Tiger defense is pretty good too. Kevin Steele’s organized a group that’s fourth in the land in scoring defense, allowing just 12.6 ppg, and they’re going to be facing off against a group that’s not only very good lately, but that doesn’t understand what it wants to be.
Joe Moorhead has tried to implement his downfield passing offense in place of the power run game that Dan Mullen ran in Starkville. With Nick Fitzgerald running the offense, there have been some growing pains with the passing game. The Bulldogs have completed better than 50% of their passes in only one game this year (Louisiana Lafayette), and Fitzgerald’s line for the year isn’t too threatening.
52-106 (49.1%), 640 yards, 4 TDs, 2 INTs, 108.5 rating.
If Auburn shuts down the State run game (which is likely), then the passing game hasn’t had the juice lately to supplement the offensive production. The Bulldogs have scored just thirteen combined points in losses to Kentucky and Florida, and have accrued barely 400 yards total in those two games combined.
It’s on the offensive side of things that Auburn needs to figure it out. Do the Tigers lean on the short passing game? Do we see the screens to Ryan Davis that helped loosen up defenses last year? The deep shots hit last week, may we see more one-on-one chances for our receivers? With Whitlow out, does Kam Martin’s productivity increase in Starkville? Does Asa Martin finally get to see some real carries?
There are a ton of questions, and we’ll have to see exactly how they get answered tonight. It’s Auburn and Mississippi State in one of the pettier matchups in the SEC.