By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
When writing the Mississippi State content for our Saturday GameDay section, I have to pick out a “crucial matchup,” something I believe could play a big role in determining a game’s outcome.
I had trouble coming up with just one this week. Mississippi State plays Auburn in both teams’ SEC opener on Saturday (11 a.m., ESPN), and there are five matchups that caught my eye, matchups that are not only crucial but are highly intriguing:
* Auburn defensive ends vs. MSU offensive tackles: Dee Ford and Corey Lemonier are fast and know how to find opposing quarterbacks. MSU’s three main tackles are two sophomores and a junior college transfer.
MSU coach Dan Mullen said he’s tried to simulate the speed of Ford and Lemonier in practice, and those two could give quarterback Tyler Russell fits if the young tackles can’t hold blocks.
* MSU interior offensive line vs. Auburn defensive tackles: State’s strength up front is its two guards and center, while the Tigers are wanting better play from their inside guys on defense. With so many options at tailback, don’t be surprised to see MSU pound it between the tackles, which could help neutralize the defensive ends.
* MSU secondary vs. Auburn passing game: Auburn has a new QB, Kiehl Frazier, a dual-threat guy, and we’re not sure yet how good a passer he’ll be. He has some good weapons, including receiver Emory Blake and tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen.
It’ll be interesting to see how willing Auburn’s coaches are to let Frazier test MSU’s secondary, which might be the best in the SEC.
* MSU defensive line vs. Auburn offensive line: This is the “crucial matchup” I went with for GameDay. MSU is so deep and experienced here, while Auburn’s line is very young, with two freshmen and two sophomores among the starters.
Frazier may be forced to make quick decisions, and his running backs could have trouble finding holes in MSU’s front.
* MSU kickers vs. Auburn kicker Cody Parkey: Mullen used three kickers last week, and that job remains wide open. The lone field goal attempt was a 42-yarder by freshman Devon Bell, who shanked it badly.
Field goals are not a strength for Brian Egan, and we simply don’t know much about Charlie Grandfield. As for Parkey, he made 13 of 18 field goals last year, and made all four of his attempts last week versus Clemson.
This figures to be a close game, and for all the other matchups we’ve looked at here, it could ultimately come down to that last one between the guys wearing clean jerseys.
Brad Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at DJournal.com.