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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Auburn-Mississippi State: Who has the edge?

This is coming a little bit later than usual because of the screwy short week, but here's a breakdown of the Auburn-Mississippi State game.

We're trying a different format this time. We'll see how it goes. Let me know how you like it:

No. 20 Auburn at Mississippi State
  • Where: Davis Wade Stadium
  • When: Thursday, 7:30 p.m. ET
  • TV: ESPN
  • Records: Auburn 1-0, Mississippi State 1-0
Auburn passing game vs. MSU secondary
While Cam Newton's running ability got most of the headlines last week, he didn't have a shabby passing day either, completing 9 of 14 passes for 186 yards and three touchdowns. MSU's Johnathan Banks and Corey Broomfield are emerging young cornerbacks, but they might be left on an island against Darvin Adams and Terrell Zachery if the Bulldogs have to commit a player to spy Newton. That should open things up for Adams and Zachery to catch more than the three passes they caught in the opener. Edge: Auburn.
Auburn running backs vs. MSU linebackers
It appears Mario Fannin might not be the No. 1 option for Auburn anymore after Onterio McCalebb and Mike Dyer had strong performances in the opener. While there doesn't seem to be a workhorse back among the three like Ben Tate last year, they all bring different styles to the table Fannin's got elusiveness, Dyer decisiveness and McCalebb speed. MSUs' trio of senior linebackers are solid, led by K.J. Wright and Chris White, but the Tigers' versatility is a big advantage. Edge: Auburn.
Auburn offensive line vs. MSU defensive line
Auburn's starting five has made 113 career starts after last week, with RT A.J. Greene seamlessly joining the four returning starters in the opener. The Tigers' rushing stats were partially skewed by Newton's big rushing day, which was mostly improvised, but Auburn still got 196 yards from players other than Newton. MSU's got some play-makers up front, though, led by DE Pernell McPhee, an All-SEC caliber player. This might be the best matchup of the game. Slight edge: Auburn.
MSU passing game vs. Auburn secondary
Chris Relf and Tyler Russell proved to be a great combination at quarterback in the opener, combining to complete 20 of 25 passes for 372 yards and five touchdowns. Chad Bumphis and Brandon Heavens, an Auburn commitment under Tommy Tuberville who the new staff didn't keep in contact with, had huge games against Memphis, combining for nine catches, 212 yards and four scores. Auburn's secondary, meanwhile, got beat up by Arkansas State's short passing game, giving up 367 yards in the air, mostly on underneath routes. Big edge: MSU.
MSU running backs vs. Auburn linebackers
The Bulldogs don't appear to have a workhorse back to replace Anthony Dixon, who graduated after having a big senior year. Junior Vick Ballard ran for 60 yards in the opener and redshirt freshman LaDarius Perkins ran for 57. It appears as though it will be a committee approach this year. Even without OLB Craig Stevens, who will likely miss his second game because of a team-imposed suspension, Auburn is solid in the linebacking corps. Josh Bynes is an All-SEC performer with the experience to boot. Converted safety Daren Bates made a team-high 10 tackles in his first game at OLB, and Stevens' replacement, Eltoro Freeman, could be an asset against a physical, smashmouth group like MSU. Edge: Auburn.
MSU offensive line vs. Auburn defensive line
The Bulldogs return four starters up front from a unit that led the SEC with 227 yards per game. All-American candidate Derek Sherrod, a 6-foot-6, 305-pound mountain of a left tackle, leads the way. While Auburn's line limited Arkansas State to 43 rushing yards, this still isn't a battle-tested group once you get beyond the starters. Three true freshmen Corey Lemonier, Jeffrey Whitaker and Craig Sanders and redshirt freshman Nosa Eguae made their debuts last week. While they looked good against Arkansas State, Mississippi State is a whole different challenge. Edge: MSU
Auburn return units vs. MSU coverage teams
The Tigers didn't break any big ones against Arkansas State, although Demond Washington, Zachery and McCalebb certainly have the capability. Quindarius Carr gave the punt return team a boost, averaging 9.4 yards per return and not fumbling the ball once. MSU allowed one punt for 1 yard last week, although the kick return team allowed 23 yards per return. Heath Hutchins averaged 39.5 yards per punt. Slight edge: Auburn
MSU return units vs. Auburn coverage teams
Although they didn't get many opportunities in the opener, the Bulldogs have dangerous returners on kicks and punts in Bumphis and Leon Berry. Berry set MSU's single-season record in kick return yardage last year with 1,105 yards, the second-highest total in SEC history. He averaged 26.7 yards per return and took one back for a touchdown. Flush with extra bodies from last year's recruiting class, Auburn's kick coverage teams showed improvement in the opener. Sanders had three special teams tackles alone. Punter Ryan Shoemaker got enough hang time not to allow many returns, but he averaged only 39.2 yards per punt. Edge: MSU.
Kickers
There's no good way to match these up against an opponent, so we'll just do a heads-up comparison. Auburn's Wes Byrum nailed his only field goal attempt in the opener, a 24-yarder, after nearly being perfect last year. MSU's Sean Brauchle missed his only attempt from 38 yards. He's 6-for-10 in his carer. Edge: Auburn.
Coaches
Gene Chizik got the best of Dan Mullen in the coaches' SEC debut at Jordan-Hare Stadium a year ago, but both have energized their respective program. Despite a 3-5 SEC record last year, Chizik won eight games, including a thriller in the Outback Bowl, and put together a top-five recruiting class. Mullen won two of his final four games last year, including a 41-27 win against state rival Ole Miss that sent a message. Although the Bulldogs are breaking in new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, which could lead to complications, the Tigers have defensive issues of their own under Ted Roof, who is starting to feel some heat after Auburn gave up 26 points to Arkansas State in the opener. Edge: Push.
Prediction
ESPN Thursday night games are hard to predict. The home team seems to have quite an advantage in these contests, and MSU should have a rabid crowd ready to clang on those cowbells as much as they can. Don't expect much defense in this one, with both teams' offenses primed to put up big numbers. I think it will come down to quarterback play. And while Newton has less SEC experience than Relf, I'd take him in a pressure situation over someone who is still splitting time at the position. This one will be close, and quite honestly wouldn't shock me if it went the other way, but I'll take the Tigers in a tight one. Final score: Auburn 38, Mississippi State 33.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Andy,


You've got a typo: "MSU offensive line vs. Auburn offensive line" Should read "...vs. Auburn defensive line".

scottie burns said...

i feel the same way on the prediction AB. a one score game in the 30's. WDE.

i think losing Craig Stephens is going to hurt more than they're letting on. sorry.

Jared said...

So i noticed that the over/under on total points scored for this game is currently at like 56, as high as that is for a vegas line, I still think taking the over may be a very safe bet. Anyone agree?

Andy Bitter said...

Yeah. That seems extremely low. I'd take the over there.

scottie burns said...

watch it be a 13-9 kinda game.

....NAAAHHHHHHHH.

CrownsCaster said...

I don't know Freeman is pretty dang talented himself at LB and may be a better matchup against MSU than Stevens.

I'm thinking close at halftime but in the end Auburn has a lot more firepower on offense and that is no joke. The defense will play a lot better. The 2nd half was a lot better vs. Ark State than the first defensively. Auburn 37 MSU 20

Clint Richardson said...

I watched the MSU-Memphis game on review Sunday, and it just seemed to me like they tired relatively easy. I think if we can keep the offense on the field longer than this past week we can tire them out by the end of the 3rd Quarter and rack up the points in the 4th.

AUsome04 said...

I think we play better defense this game. I was impressed with Bates, Savage, and the defensive line play. Thorpe needs a big game. Trust me, we'll miss Craig Stevens, Eltoro missed a lot of assignments against Ark St. All that said it feels good to have some depth there. We have to keep our foot on the gas offensively. I'm confident this group of Tigers will be a tougher out than the last ones they played. If we jump on them early it could get the crowd out of it. My unbiased (lol) prediction is 38 - 30 AU. War Cam Eagle!

jayau92 said...

Basing your comparison of Mississippi State's offense and Auburn's defense in the passing game on their respective opponents last Saturday is flawed at best. Memphis was 117th - yes, almost the absolute worst - in pass defense last year so it's pretty likely the Dawgs numbers last week were inflated. Regarding the Auburn defense, if anyone really thinks significant time was actually spent game-planning for Arkansas State rather than looking ahead to MSU, I've got a bridge you might be interested in. The coaches as much as admitted it in post-game interviews when they said they didn't know what to expect from ASU's new offense. For a bonus, I daresay Tyler Russell didn't see anything near the schemes and speed from last week's Tigers he'll see from this week's version.

Lance said...

Andy - like the new format. Makes much more sense to compare a unit to its opposing unit.

I think AU's D steps up and there are just too many weapons on AU's Off. WAR EAGLE 38- 27

Commish of Old Pimps said...

I think the belief that MSU is some type of offensive juggernaut (which seems to be the consensus) is without basis and mistaken. As JayAU92 points out, the Memphis team is very, very weak, particularly on defense. By comparison, Arky State is a middle of the pack team (that likely beats Memphis by three scores). MSU may have improved over last year, but they are no juggernaut.

Unless Auburn is guilty of 2-3 turnovers, I don't believe this game will be very close by the end of the Third Quarter.