Today’s game: Auburn (0-1, 0-0 SEC) at MSU (1-0, 0-0), 11 a.m., ESPN/ESPN3.com (Dave Pasch play-by-play, Brian Griese analyst, Jenn Brown sideline), XM 200, Sirius 112.
It’s a big day for Mississippi State, a big day for Dan Mullen. It promises to be a good ol’ SEC West dogfight, or whatever cliché you prefer. And the outcome promises to have a heavy residual impact on the rest of MSU’s season. Plus, there’s the fact that State wants to snap that 12-game SEC opener losing streak.
In today’s GameDay section – which I highly recommend you take time to read this morning – you can find my story on how this game has developed into a rivalry of sorts. It’s especially meaningful for MSU, which has lost some tough ones to Auburn of late.
“We were supposed to have won that game (last year), and it would’ve catapulted us to a different level,” tight end Brandon Hill said. “It kind of stalled our season a little bit. I feel like we win this game … the sky’s the limit.”
In some personnel news, suspensions have been lifted for cornerback Jamerson Love (Aberdeen) and receiver Ricco Sanders. Defensive lineman P.J. Jones (Tupelo) is suspended for a second game. The three backups were benched last week for unspecified violations of team rules.
• Remember to follow me on Twitter today for updates during and after the game, and don’t forget about our college football page. Now, let’s take a gander at MSU’s three keys for victory, as found in the GameDay section.
1. Block the ends. Auburn has some fast defensive ends – like Dee Ford and Corey Lemonier – and they accounted for three of the Tigers’ four sacks last week against Clemson. Today they’ll be going up against some MSU tackles who haven’t fully proved themselves.
Right tackle Charles Siddoway graded out around 80 percent against Jackson State and did a solid job against its best pass rusher, Joseph LeBeau. But this is obviously another level of defensive end Siddoway will be facing today.
On the other side, Blaine Clausell is facing his biggest litmus test to date and can’t afford to leave Tyler Russell’s blind side exposed.
2. Remain calm. MSU used a lot of young players last week, and several will play today in varying capacities. Coaches talked earlier in the week of how nervous some freshmen and sophomores were against Jackson State.
Nervousness and uncertainty won’t get it done against Auburn, and in fact could lead to the kind of start that marked last year’s meeting, when the Tigers staked a 14-0 lead. The JSU game was for getting the butterflies out.
3. Contain the run. Auburn is a run-first team, and that includes quarterback Kiehl Frazier. The sophomore has not yet developed into a strong passer, and he was 11 of 27 against Clemson last week.
MSU’s front seven is awfully stout, and it’ll be up to guys like Kaleb Eulls, Curtis Virges and Cam Lawrence to keep ball carriers corralled. Because it’s highly unlikely Frazier will do much damage against State’s vaunted secondary.
Last week, Auburn was led on the ground by Tre Mason (106 yards) and Onterio McCalebb (82 yards).
• Notable stat: Mullen is 4-8 in SEC home games, including 2-6 against West teams.
• Weather: It’s damp this morning and will probably stay that way. The Weather Channel app tells me that there is a 50 percent chance of rain, decreasing to 40 percent in the early afternoon, and it should clear up about the time you’re heading back to the Junction or wherever. The good news: The projected high temp is only 78. It’s almost like real football weather.