Mississippi State got their first win of the season last week defeating Alcorn State, 51-7. They now take on their first SEC opponent of the year with a road game at Auburn.
Who: Mississippi State (1-1) vs. Auburn (2-0)
Where: Auburn, Alabama; Jordan-Hare Stadium (87,451)
When: Saturday, September 14; 6 p.m CT on ESPN2
Series Record: AU leads, 60-24; The Last Time: MSU, 28-10 in Starkville.
About the Tigers
The Coaching: Auburn went through a complete overhaul from a year ago when the team won just three games and failed to get a single conference win. This came just two years following an undefeated season and a National Championship. Gene Chizik was shown the door and the Tigers brought in who many thought was the reason the team had so much success. Gus Malzahn is coming into his second season as a collegiate Head Coach after a 9-3 season at Arkansas State where he won the Sun Belt Championship in his one year. He brings his fast-paced spread back to Auburn where he had lots of success in his tenure as offensive coordinator. He's put together a solid staff of coaches that have a ton of experience in the SEC, many of which have made stops at MSU in recent years. Melvin Smith, Charlie Harbison, Ellis Johnson and J.B. Grimes all were hired by Malzahn and all have been on the MSU staff in the last five years. Smith takes over the cornerbacks a year after he held the same position at Mississippi State.
The Offense: Last season, Auburn gave themselves little chance to succeed in a pro-style offense. Most if not all of the pieces out there were set up for what Malzahn planned to run. Now that he's back, the offense has gotten back up to speed a bit. A strong recruiting class was closed out and Auburn feels good about their future. The problem is the team is still young and inexperienced and that might take some time. Through the first two games against Washington State and Arkansas State, the Tigers have 431 yards per game doing most of their work on the ground averaging 298 yards.
Under center is Nick Marshall a JUCO transfer who was originally at the University of Georgia as a defensive back. He shows a lot of dual-threat skill but has been inconsistent in the passing game where Auburn has managed just 133 yards per game early. He has the ability to make plays happen as he's flushed out of the pocket and can get something done on the fly. Sophomore receiver Sammie Coats will be the top threat in the passing game as he's a tremendous athlete and used in a multitude of ways. Junior Quan Bray is the other receiver to watch as he's more of a speed threat on short routes and jet sweeps.
The offensive line has little experience as well with center Reese Dismukes and right guard Chad Slade the only two with more than a year worth of experience as they're in year three. Auburn will need to get the ball out quickly and not allow the MSU defensive lineman time to get in the backfield.
Auburn has their greatest weapons in the backfield with the combination of Tre Mason and Corey Grant. Mason has hurt the Bulldogs at times in his two games against the Bulldogs most recently with a kick return for Auburn's lone touchdown last season. He's rushed for 172 yards in the first two games with three touchdowns. Grant has been a nice addition to the Tigers coming in and leads the team with 186 yards rushing. You'll see Auburn keep a fresh back in the backfield and try to utilize the ground game to keep the MSU offense off of the field.
Defense: The Auburn defense is still searching for their identity in the first part of the season. Long-time defensive coach Ellis Johnson comes back to the defensive coordinator position after a year as a Head Coach at Southern Miss which turned out to be a complete failure. Coaching defense, however, is what he does better than a lot of coaches around the country. He did a lot with a little while at Mississippi State and followed that up by creating one of the most fierce defenses in the country at South Carolina.
This year, he has a lot of talent to work with but not enough experience and it has shown early on. Against a couple of pass-heavy teams, Johnson gave up an average of 443 yards, 308 through the air. MSU brings a more balanced attack than the first two teams and a lot of weapons on the field. Last season, the Bulldogs gashed Auburn on the ground and in the air and Johnson wants to change that. The Tigers are lead in tackles by senior cornerback Chris Davis, which is either a sign that he's been aggressive around the line of scrimmage, or the offenses are getting the ball into the secondary. From what has been seen early, it's the latter.
The Tigers have been susceptible to the pass early and former MSU commit Jermaine Whitehead has been a bit exposed at safety. If MSU can get the ball in the hands of their receivers they can open up the run game more against a talented but still young defensive line.
The Tigers signed a stellar group of lineman in the offseason and three of them will see significant time tomorrow. Elijah Daniel and Carl Lawson were two of the highest recruited defensive ends in the country last year and have started off well. Inside Montravious Adams is a 6-4, 305-pound athletic specimen and another freshman that can cause trouble. Players like Nosa Eguae, Craig Sanders and LaDarius Owens are helping lead the front wall and it will be tough for MSU to find much running lanes against them. If they can get pressure on Tyler Russell early and often, the Bulldogs could be in trouble.