KEYS FOR VICTORY
1. Get after the quarterback
Much was made in the offseason about coordinator Geoff Collins new attacking style of defense. Mississippi State’s quarterback hurries have increased so far this fall up from 2.1 to 4.5 per contest. However, the Bulldogs have only generated one sack.
Auburn’s Nick Marshall will be starting in his first SEC game at quarterback and the Bulldogs need to get him rattled before he settles in and finds a rhythm. The Tigers have primarily used the running game to setup the play action pass with Marshall but if the Bulldogs can create third-and-long situations it will be to their advantage having only surrendered 140.5 yards a game through the air so far.
The Tigers have not surrendered a sack in 2013.
2. Convert third downs
It is no secret that MSU has struggled on third downs this year. The Bulldogs are just 7-of-29 on the year when attempting to move the chains on third down. Les Koenning’s offense was just 2-of-16 in an opening game loss to Oklahoma State and will need to be much more efficient in its first true road game.
In last season’s win over Auburn, State accumulated 23 first downs and finished the day with 368 total yards.
Oddly enough, the Bulldogs have converted 5-of-10 on fourth downs this fall.
3. Protect Russell
Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell has not had any contact since his fourth quarter concussion on Aug. 31. There won’t be any green jersey to protect Russell from Auburn defenders on the plains today.
It will be up to the Bulldogs offensive line to limit blows to Russell throughout the game. He was sacked only once against Auburn last year while completing 20-of-29 passing for 222 yards and three touchdowns.
WHAT TO WATCH
When MSU has the ball
It will be interesting to see how Russell and running back LaDarius Perkins (ankle) respond in their return after missing last week’s game due to injury. That duo combined for 322 yards and four touchdowns in last year’s win over the Tigers in Starkville.
A pair of true freshmen led the Bulldogs last week with Ashton Shumpert carrying 22 times for 98 yards and two touchdowns while Fred Ross hauled in three passes for 46 yards. It will be the first true road test for both this weekend.
When Auburn has the ball
Auburn has relied on the run heavily in its first two games averaging 298 yards. Oklahoma State found success in Week 1 running the option to the tune of 286 yards but the Bulldogs were able to bounce back last week slowing Alcorn State to just 28 yards on the ground.
The Tigers are young on offense sporting just one senior on its two-deep depth chart. This likely means a steady dose of running backs Corey Grant, Tre Mason and Cameron Artis-Payne are headed MSU’s way.
Auburn running backs vs. MSU’s front seven
Auburn has been able to run roughshod through its first two opponents with three very capable running backs. The Tigers are averaging 6.2 yards per carry and have scored five of their seven touchdowns on the ground.
It will be up to State’s defensive front seven to slow down Auburn’s rushing attack. The Bulldogs were able to bottle up Alcorn State last week by not allowing a single first down during the second and third quarters.