Thursday, September 8, 2011

Mississippi State Preview

Mississippi State always represents a physical challenge. Even when State is not a legitimate contender they have always played a hard-nosed brand of football. They've always filled their roster with players carrying an enormous chip on their shoulder because the recruiting process made them feel less desirable, less talented, a step slower, an inch shorter, a few pounds lighter to the upper echelon SEC teams. Therefore, State always plays pissed off for 60 minutes desperate to prove their worth, particularly against Alabama and Auburn, two teams many on the Bulldog roster believe overlooked them.

The importance of this game is not lost on any player, coach, or fan base. All desire wholeheartedly to begin the SEC division race from the top rather than digging out of a hole. Every year we hear how improved Mississippi State is...they're over the proverbial hump...true western division contenders...Dan Mullen is a genius capable of solving any defense, etc. Though I do agree Mississippi State is a much improved football team under Dan Mullen, State still has a hindering, uncoachable issue they've yet to overcome. This issue was raised by Mississippi State beat writer Logan Lowery from on our radio show this week...State is not used to winning. Not used to the pressure of being the favorite. Two wins against the West in Dan Mullen's tenure...both against Ole Miss! Contrast to Auburn, a team not used to losing, a team expecting to win no matter how the game invaluable intangible!

Last year this game was the coming out party for Nick Fairley. He entered this game a virtual unknown outside of Auburn, AL and left a household name. In order for Auburn to match the physical attack of State, this game must also be the coming out party for someone along the front seven! Who will it be? How about Corey Lemonier, or Jeffery Whittaker? Maybe it's Jake Holland? Perhaps Eltoro Freeman becomes the force we've hoped for since his arrival? Defensively, our intensity and tackling have to be light years ahead of last week or it's not even close (an analysis you all know)!

Keys to the Game:

1. Our offense needs to control and protect the football. No turnovers allowing a short field against a vulnerable defense. Take what State gives us and utilize the athleticism of the QB (whoever takes the snap) in the running game to hold linebackers for the split second it takes to get Onterio to the corner, or Dyer through a gap.

2. We can't just win the special teams battle, we must dominate it. This is the one area we're actually quite experienced and it must show. Field position will be priceless. Special teams needs to generate a score!

3. Crowd must come to ready to play! With morning games we lose the buildup, the anticipation as fans. Same is true only magnified as a player. It's difficult for the players to be as jacked up at 11:00 AM as they are at 6:00 PM. The crowd must create the energy and it needs to start from Tiger Walk and never cease! This is especially important for a young group. They need you and I to be loud, to be energized, to make things as difficult for State as we possibly can. Jordan-Hare is one the greatest home field advantages in all of football when it's rocking. Make it a miserable place for State to be!

4. Defense must grow up, wrap up, fist fight for four quarters, arrive at the ball angrily, swarm to the football, get lined up, communicate, create turnovers, be multiple, be great on third down, refuse to allow a State to run the football at will...basically they must be everything they weren't in week one!

I don't buy into the Mississippi State hype. The boy has cried wolf too many times and rings hollow with me! That being said, the play of the defense last week, at all levels, was too poor for me to believe it is capable correction in one week. I think it will be a dramatic improvement, but it remains a work in progress. The saving grace will be superior talent in orange and blue combined with an immense desire to prove the Utah State performance was an anomaly. Until the longest winning streak in college football comes to an end...a loss won't be predicted here by me. Auburn players believe they're supposed to win. Mississippi State players are not so sure.

Mississippi State- 31
Auburn- 34

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