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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Opponent preview: Mississippi State

We're right on schedule with our opponents previews (read the Week 1 entry, Louisiana Tech, in a previous post.)

Now it's on to Auburn's Week 2 foe, Mississippi State, where we hope things are a little more high-scoring this season, preferably somewhere in the 6-4 range.

Mississippi State Bulldogs
  • Head coach: Dan Mullen (1st season)
  • 2008 record: 4-8, (2-6 SEC, t-4th in the West), no postseason
  • Returning starters: 11 (7 offense, 4 defense)
  • Total offense: 274.9 (10th SEC, 113th nationally)
  • Total defense: 327.5 (10th WAC, 35th nationally)
  • Series: Auburn leads 57-23-2
  • Last meeting: Auburn won 3-2 last season in Starkville, Miss.
  • Consensus prediction: Sixth place in the SEC West
Five-week schedule glimpse
  • Sept. 5: Jackson State
  • Sept. 12: at Auburn
  • Sept. 19: at Vanderbilt
  • Sept. 26: LSU
  • Oct. 3: Georgia Tech
There's a new coach and a new attitude in Starkville after the young, offensive-minded Mullen replaced Sylvester Croom, an older, defensive-oriented coach whose teams struggled to find any kind of consistency on offense. Mullen, a longtime Urban Meyer protege who helped him go undefeated at Utah and win two national titles with Florida, doesn't have any Tim Tebows on his roster, but he's hoping with time that will change. In the interim, he hopes to make some waves at a school that's finished last or second-to-last in the SEC West in seven of the last eight seasons.

To find some answers, I went to Kyle Veazey of the The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss. You can read his excellent blog here and find all of his stories here.

AB: The Bulldogs have finished 103rd or worse nationally in total offense in each of the last five seasons. New head coach Dan Mullen is an offensive guru. How long will it take for him to put the pieces in place for the Mississippi State offense to be a factor in the SEC?
KV: This past week's departure of two wide receivers doesn't do much to help Mullen out. Neither does an already-thin depth chart at WR, painfully little experience behind Tyson Lee at QB and an offensive line that was porous last season. That said, look for Mullen to adapt his spread offense to the hand he's been dealt, to borrow a cliché. It's part salesmanship to fans, as Croom was criticized for not being adaptable, but Mullen has said time and time again he'll adjust his offensive style and scheme to what he has. And since he has a good running back in Anthony Dixon and depth there, look for that to be the starting point.
AB: Lee, a senior who is a former junior college transfer, seems to be the frontrunner for the quarterback job, but true freshman Tyler Russell, Mississippi's Class 5A Mr. Football, appears to be the future at the position. How do you see the quarterback situation shaking out as the season goes on?
KV: My take is that Russell will get every opportunity to win the job as soon as he can. And Mullen has made it clear he's not against playing two QBs. But don't bet against Lee. He's a smart kid who works as hard as anyone, and he ran the spread offense in high school and junior college.
AB: While at Florida, Mullen had plenty of offensive weapons at his disposal, particularly versatile players in the Percy Harvin mold. Who are the play-maker candidates on the Bulldogs this season and can they fill the roles Mullen needs them to?
KV: That conversation must start with Dixon, the running back. He's agile for 235 pounds and has been State's only experienced playmaker. He can be valuable in the open field, and look for State to throw him the ball as well as allow him to run it. At wideout, Brandon McRae returns plenty of experience and is a tall wide receiver who can be valuable. Freshman Chad Bumphis, a wide receiver from Tupelo, has a buzz around him heading into the season that he might be an instant impact-type guy.
AB: Two of the Bulldogs' bigger names on defense weren't around last year. Defensive lineman Pernell McPhee transferred in from Itawamba Community College and linebacker Jamar Chaney returns after breaking his ankle in last season's opener. Will their additions be enough to offset the losses of All-SEC linebacker Dominic Douglas and safeties Derek Pegues and Keith Fitzhugh?
KV: State could be thin in the secondary but I think, with McPhee's addition, you'll see improvement on the defensive line. State's defensive strength is going to be at linebacker, with Chaney, a budding star in K.J. Wright and a junior college transfer in Chris White about whom coaches are raving.
AB: Mississippi State never got over the hump under Croom, a first-time head coach. Mullen is in the same boat, having served as an assistant throughout his entire career, albeit under the extremely successful Urban Meyer at three different schools. Is there anything that leads you to believe things will be different under Mullen?
KV: I think the distinction between these two assistants is that Mullen is a career college assistant under perhaps the most successful coach of the past decade. Croom had spent 17 years in the NFL, and, thus, was 17 years removed from college football, even though he did work for the most successful coach of his era, too. Few would argue that the world of college football from selling your program to recruiting to offensive schemes had not changed in nearly two decades. Early indications are that Mullen is savvy enough to sell his program. Can he recruit consistently and recruit well? Can he install the right offense and win games with it? We shall see.
NCAA '10 on the PlayStation3 says ... Auburn 21, Mississippi State 20. Wow! An offensive showcase relative to last year's 3-2 rock fight. MSU leads 17-7 in the third quarter before Kodi Burns hits Montez Billings for a 43-yard touchdown pass just before the end of the third quarter to cut the lead to 17-14. Bulldogs kicker Sean Brauchle's 33-yard field goal with 5:42 left make its 20-14 MSU, but Ben Tate plunges in from a yard out with 3:25 to play, giving Auburn a 21-20 lead it would not give back. Burns struggles passing the ball, going 12-for-30 for 181 yards and a pick. Billings saves the day with another big receiving game, catching six passes for 127 yards. The defense chips in with five sacks, two by Jake Ricks.

Up next: A non-conference rematch with the Pat White-less West Virginia Mountaineers.

1 comment:

Hetar said...

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