Mississippi State enters this game (1-0) under new Head Coach Dan Mullen after knocking off Jackson State last Saturday 45-7. It will mark the first SEC game as Head Coach for both Dan Mullen and Gene Chizik. Mississippi State will look much different than any Mississippi State team that I have seen in my lifetime with the change from the power running game to a Florida like spread attack, so getting a feel on this squad after only one game will be a tough task for the Auburn coaching staff. Let's take a closer look at Mississippi State's Offense, Defense & Special Teams.
This is where most of the difference will be noticed about State. They have given up the traditional I-formation for the spread shotgun formation which they run all their plays from. They do return 9 starters from last year's offense, so they have plenty of experienced players on the field. Let's take a look at the QB situation for State, in which the Jackson State game saw both last year's starter Tyson Lee rotating out with Chris Relf in a game which State struggled during the first half but put it together the second half after Tyson Lee was forced to sit out with muscle spasms. These two quarterbacks are very different in look and what they seem to do. During the first half, when they equally split time at the position, Sr. Tyson Lee (listed at 5'10" & 200lbs) seemed to try and throw the ball more while throwing the ball 14 times compared to So. Chris Relf (listed at 6'3" 235lbs) only 3 attempts, so there is some big differences in the two physically and what Mullen intends for them to do. Of the two QB's, I'm much more concerned with what Relf can do with his feet when a passing play breaks down and the fact that State seemed to find rhythm in their offense when they were not switching QB's in every two series. State should also have Sr. 2nd Team Pre-season All-SEC running back Anthony Dixon back from suspension after a summer DUI caused him to miss the first game, and that will bolster and improve State's running attack much more from the Jackson State game in which three different backs played. State's leading WR from last year, Brandon McRae also returns to compliment the true freshman, Chad Bumphis who had 2 receiving TD's in the first game along with four offensive lineman, so this team does not lack in playing experience. I would look for this offense to try and run the ball on the outside and setup passing plays in which the QB will be looking to take off if something is not open downfield.
Mississippi State lost seven players from a Defense that ranked close to last in the SEC in every stat except passing defense, so this figures to be a tough year for the Bulldogs. The defense did start out with a stellar performance led by 2nd Team preseason All-SEC LB Jamar Chaney in holding Jackson State to 7 points and less then 200 yards of total offense, but there is a big difference from playing someone in the SWAC as compared to someone in the SEC. Of the four returning starters, there is only one defensive lineman coming back, so stopping the run is going to be difficult for state. As for the secondary, State only returns one starter and that is Marcus Washington, all the other players in the secondary combine for 2 starts, so this will be an area of concern for the Bulldogs. In the first game, State lined up in a 4-3 defense and tried to use a lot of run blitzing to help stall out the Jackson State running game and I'm expecting them to try and do the same here. I would look for state to try and get Auburn to 3rd and longs and hope that they can force pressure on the QB by blitzing to create turnovers.
Mississippi State special teams were among the worst last season ranking near last in almost every category. Coach Mullen has personally took on the responsibility to try and personally take a big part in special teams himself while not assigning one specific coach responsible for it. With that said, Coach Mullen brought in the JUCO Punter Heath Hutchins and JUCO Placekicker Sean Brauchle to try and revamp this kicking game. During the first game, Brachle was 1/3 in Field Goal attempts while Hutchins has a much better day averaging 49 yards on his 2 punts. As for the Return game, Leon Berry seems to be the primary returner on both Kickoff's and Punt Returns. It is hard to determine how State is going to be with the new kickers, but I would love to be able to put some pressure on both of them and see how they handle it in their first hostile environment.
KEYS TO THE GAME FOR AUBURN
- Auburn needs to throw the ball down field and force State to abandon the blitz and play a more base defense in which the Tigers will have much more success running the ball against.
- Reduce the defensive penalties that extend drives.
- Contain the QB. Prevent him from making big plays with his legs, especially on 3rd and longs.
- Once again, eliminate turnovers.
NOTES OF INTEREST
- Auburn is 3-0 all-time in games played on Sept. 12th (my Birthday I might add), and has never surrendered a point on that date.
- Auburn has won 50 consecutive games when scoring 30 or more points in a game, dating back to the last loss occurring in 1996.
That's it for the Mississippi State preview. Please drop by the comment section and share your thoughts.