Thursday, September 6, 2012

Mississippi State Preview

If you compare schedules across America, you'll be hard-pressed to find another team with two tougher tests immediately out of the gate as the Auburn Tigers. The Bulldogs of Mississippi State feel, once again, Auburn is prime to be beaten, they've come razors edge close two years consecutively, and the time is now to get over the hump. They believe in their QB Tyler Russell, that he has all the tools necessary to run the Dan Mullen offense as Dan Mullen has drawn it up. They have experience at wideout with three seniors leading the way. They return virtually their entire defense, minus first rounder Fletcher Cox, and will have a pair of corners that will push for All-Conference honors. They have circled this game against Auburn since their season ended last year. With a pathetically weak, backloaded schedule, a win over Auburn would propel State towards a probable 7-0 start. Here's why it won't happen.

* Chizik & Co. have Dan Mullen's number. Auburn gets under his skin. Auburn has edged out victories over his program both on and off the field repeatedly since his arrival and over time it wears on you. It makes you wonder. In a close game, which I expect, Chizik & Co. will be confident whereas Mullen's teams have blown this game. Until they've beaten Auburn, deep down they wonder if they have what it takes.

* Auburn's running game. Auburn made a statement in week one that they will run the football and be successful doing so. Going on the road and controlling the football, stringing together first downs, changing field position and limiting defensive snaps will all be top priorities this week and the running game will be the catalyst. The addition of Reese Dismukes will add a veteran presence in the middle, provide more push and ultimately even more success pounding the ball between the tackles. I believe our OL will wear down the Mississippi State front 7 as the game progresses.

* 11 am start. Minimizes the effect of the crowd. As passionate as you want to be for your team in your own stadium, 11 am makes that a difficult chore. Cowbells alone don't get it done. Music doesn't jack a team up. Seeing and hearing sheer emotion from the mouths of fanatic supporters from pre-game to the final whistle, that's what inspires players. There will be excitement in that stadium, don't misunderstand, but not to the extent a night contest would create. We catch a break with the start time in my opinion.

* Defense with something to prove. Auburn's D knows it must play better football than what it displayed inside the Georgia Dome in week one. The advantage we have over State is we've spent a week improving on areas that were exposed by a quality opponent. Mississippi State hasn't been challenged yet, so they can't fix deficiencies they don't yet know exist. I have to believe both Brian VanGorder and Willie Martinez will shake some things up in the defensive secondary and we will see a much improved defensive unit Saturday morning. Not a dominant unit, but a group that at least tackles better in the secondary and creates more havoc up front. I also expect to see more aggression and challenge put forth by our corners in defending the pass.

* Kiehl Frazier the X-factor. If Kiehl uses his legs to keep plays alive, to allude pressure, to change defensive angles, to keep the sticks moving, he'll go a long way to helping his team leave Starkville winners. If Mississippi State corrals Kiehl, keeps him in the pocket, prevents him from being a dual threat, life will be tough, especially with their talented corners. I think Kiehl must make the State defense defend against the threat of him running. That, combined with a solid conventional rushing attack and play action which will follow, he is in store to have a big game.

* Special teams. Were stellar in week one and always play pivotal roles especially on the road. Want to get beat, have a punt blocked or a punt/kickoff returned. Want to beat yourself, miss on field goal opportunities. Luckily we're blessed to have outstanding, consistent play in this department and will loom large Saturday.

I expect this game to nothing short of an epic battle. This game is enormous, really a must-win for both programs. Who makes the fewest mistakes? Who wins the turnover battle? Who controls the line of scrimmage? Which QB has the best day? The answers to those questions gives us the winner. I like our chances. I believe we'll see inspired play from both teams and once again Mississippi State comes up short.

Mississippi State- 23

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