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Game Preview and Open Thread: Auburn @ Mississippi State

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Last game of the season. What’s this going to mean?

NCAA Football: Auburn at Alabama The Montgomery Advertiser-USA TODAY Sports

We waited an extra three weeks for SEC football to arrive this season, and that’s after not having postseason basketball or baseball to get us through the doldrums of a COVID summer. Now, the final game of the season has arrived just a couple weeks before Christmas, and it feels so bizarre.

The condensed ten-game schedule went by extremely quickly, even with a bye week and a postponement. Auburn would have already been done if Mississippi State hadn’t had a ton of positive tests back in early November, but alas, here we are today.

Based on the mood from Auburn fans over the past couple of weeks — with the Iron Bowl drubbing, and the sour collapse against Texas A&M — many are ready for the season to be over. Much of that sentiment stems from the fresh reliable churn of the rumor mill. Right on schedule, we’re seeing the message boards light up with the same old suppositions. Peruse certain infamous internet watering holes and you’ll see thread after thread filled with smoke regarding future employment of Auburn’s head coach. Not to mention, the same old list of candidates, except I don’t think Bob Stoops has been mentioned this time.

We here at College and Magnolia are not reporters, we are just bloggers, and we only comment instead of report. That said, maybe Auburn fans that expect to average ten wins a year and win a couple of national championships a decade are the problem. Who is doing that other than Alabama or Clemson? Even Ohio State’s not at the championship clip. Oklahoma can’t get over the hump and win the big game. LSU caught absolute lightning in a bottle and now their program looks on the verge of collapse. Nobody in the PAC-12 is any good. There are literally two programs that are competing reliably every single year, and both of them spent time in the 90s and 00s in football purgatory. Alabama was hilariously tepid, and Clemson had a term for losing games named after them. It all goes in cycles.

So you want to pony up $21M to get rid of Gus Malzahn? Let’s play it out. Let’s say that someone — Yella Fella I guess — fronts the cash, which is $10M due within a month. Is Gus fired tomorrow after the game? That’s four days before Early National Signing Day. With Auburn having several targets undecided, that’s a heck of a way to torpedo a class and set things up wonderfully for the next coach. Then you have to decide which assistants to buy out. That’s another several million dollars. And do you have your guy already lined up? Who in the world do you get to come knowing that the Auburn decision makers are that flighty? You got fired during COVID, and you didn’t finish with a losing record?

For the reputation, Auburn’s power behind the throne, so to speak, isn’t the most reactionary bunch in the world. Auburn has only had four non-interim head coaches in the last 25 years. Gus Malzahn is in his eighth season. Gene Chizik only got fired after a winless SEC season, when a 1-7 or 2-6 record would have saved him. Tommy Tuberville lasted a decade. Terry Bowden lasted more than five seasons. Auburn doesn’t usually do things rashly, we just get more attention. Alabama’s had five full-time head coaches in the 2000s, and one of them didn’t even coach a game.

That said, does Gus Malzahn’s future depend on this game? I would hope that a meeting with a terrible Mississippi State team isn’t the end-all be-all exclamation point on your future one way or the other. You can’t boil this decision down to what happens tonight, but there may be a money guy that doesn’t agree with that. So, Gus may want to take matters into his own hands and win this game to finish 6-4.

SERIES HISTORY: Auburn leads the all-time series 64-27-2, with the Tigers winning three of the last four and holding the longest streak in the series’ history (16 games from 1964-1979).

LAST MEETING: These two met in Auburn last year and the Tigers led 21-0 six minutes into the game on the way to a 56-23 victory. Bo Nix threw for 335 yards as Auburn built a 42-9 halftime lead and cruised from there.

LAST WEEK: Auburn fell to Texas A&M 31-20 after leading 20-14 early in the fourth quarter to drop to 5-4 on the season, while MSU was off last week but lost to Ole Miss on Thanksgiving 31-24 to drop to 2-6.

KEYS FOR AUBURN:

  1. Make MSU work for anything they get. If Auburn allows the big play through the air, then I’m not super confident in a road Bo Nix offense in keeping up, especially if the Bulldogs suddenly get that blood in the water scent. Auburn’s defense has been pretty good at taking away one element of an opponent’s offense, and thankfully for the Tigers, MSU has literally one element and that’s the passing game. When Auburn’s been gashed on defense, it’s usually been the run game. Texas A&M, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Georgia... we just don’t have the dogs up front this season to compete with a seasoned running attack. However, we can defend against the pass with some reliability. Quarterback Will Rogers only averages 5.7 yards per attempt, and the Bulldogs have a total of 220 rushing yards on the season. Just keep things in front of you and make them go 10-12 plays to get some points. They’ll make a mistake before you do.
  2. Lean more on the rushing attack and don’t get impatient. Auburn has been a deceptively good rushing team this season. Despite the offensive line injuries, the tailback injuries, and some of the losses, the Tigers have been a team that’s found some reliability in handing the ball off. Not only would a 200-yard rushing performance today help move the ball, but it would limit the chances that Mike Leach has to annoy the crap out of us with incessant passing. Plus, if Auburn wants to head into 2021 feeling good, being able to build off of a solid rushing attack with an improving Bo Nix would help. If it’s taking a little longer today to get going, don’t feel like you have to go toe to toe with MSU through the air. Play your game and dominate them late — the Herman Boone route.
  3. Turnovers. This could be a key every single week for every single team, but Auburn will have to reverse a trend to win this area tonight. MSU turned the ball over 19 times in the first five games. NINETEEN TIMES. Over their last three games, they’ve given it up just once. Auburn has just two takeaways over the last three games, so an early turnover or two would really help to salt this thing away and prevent us from sweating too much.

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