First Look: MSU Seeks Opportunity at Auburn

This week’s game: No. 20 MSU (1-0, 0-0) at No. 23 Auburn (1-0, 0-0), Saturday, 11:21 a.m., SEC Network/ESPN3.com (Dave Neal play-by-play, Andre Ware analyst)

When Mississippi State opens SEC play at Auburn on Saturday, it will be faced with some big opportunities. First off, the Bulldogs have a chance to start the season 1-0 in SEC play, something they’ve not done since 1999. They have a chance to start the season 2-0, something they’ve not done since 2000.

And as we’ve discussed before, these next two games are huge for MSU in its bid to win the Western Division, with LSU coming in to Starkville the following Thursday. Having opened the season last Thursday, MSU has extra time to prepare for Auburn, the reigning national champion.

Once I fashion a dugout canoe out of my chiffrobe, I’ll be in Starkville to bring y’all updates from Dan Mullen‘s 1 p.m. press conference. Be sure to hit me up on Twitter to keep track of said updates, and of course check in here on the blog.

Now, let’s check in on Auburn.

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Last meeting: Auburn 17, MSU 14 (Sept. 9, 2010, in Starkville)

Series: Auburn leads 59-23-2

Auburn on the Web: auburntigers.cstv.com

Auburn blogs to follow: HABOTN (Jay G. Tate, Montgomery Advertiser), Evan Woodbery (al.com), Charles Goldberg (al.com), AUBlog (David Morrison, Opelika-Auburn News)

Auburn on Twitter: @HABOTN, @auburnbeat, @augoldmine, @aublog, @jzenor, @AUAthletics

Auburn coach: Gene Chizik (23-5, third season)

3 Auburn Players to Watch: QB Barrett Trotter, RB Michael Dyer, WR Emory Blake

Premature review: In my Premature Preview of Auburn, I said I wasn’t buying any preseason rankings love for the Tigers, and that sentiment was justified on Saturday. The Tigers nearly (and should have) lost to Utah State, which is a good team by WAC standards but had no business giving Auburn the business the way it did.

There was a lot not to like about the Tigers. They couldn’t control either line of scrimmage, getting out-rushed 227-78. They couldn’t rattle a freshman QB, Chuckie Keeton. The running backs – and they’re some good ones – couldn’t shake Utah State’s front seven defenders.

There’s a much more insightful and detailed breakdown of the game right here (Jay’s been doing this a while). Chizik vowed yesterday to dissect the tape and figure out to fix things, and he also had high praise for MSU.

You’ll notice that the players to watch listed above are all on offense. That’s because the defense did nothing to impress me. Auburn is obviously missing Nick Fairley to a greater degree than it’s missing Cam Newton. The Tigers led the SEC in run defense last season, and that so far does not seem to be a strong suit.

So that would appear to be an advantage for MSU, which rushed for 309 yards against Memphis, led by Vick Ballard (166 yards, three touchdowns). By the way, Ballard was named SEC Offensive Player of the Week today.

This should be a much tougher road test for MSU than last week, and you could argue it’s a must-win if Mullen hopes to keep building on the momentum he’s created. That stat about him being winless against Western Division teams not named Ole Miss won’t go away until he does something about it.

Vegas thinks the Bulldogs get it done this week, making them an early 6-point favorite.