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Auburn Tigers vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs Game Preview and Prediction

Dak Prescott

Dak Prescott

For the second week in a row, Mississippi is the epicenter of Saturday’s slate. But after Oxford grabbed the spotlight last week, the focus shifts south to Starkville, as Mississippi State hosts Auburn in a meeting of two top-five teams. The Bulldogs easily handled Texas A&M last week, while Auburn cruised to a 41-7 victory over LSU. Considering the brutal SEC West provides few breaks, a loss on Saturday doesn’t necessarily end the hopes of either team to win the conference. However, it certainly doesn’t help, as Mississippi State and Auburn both have to play Alabama and Ole Miss, while the Tigers catch Georgia in one of their crossover games with the East Division.

The message is pretty simple: Win on Saturday and take control of the SEC West – at least for now. And brace for a brutal second-half schedule.

Auburn has dominated the overall series against Mississippi State. The Tigers own a 58-26-3 edge over the Bulldogs and won last year’s game 24-20. However, three of the last four meetings between these two teams have been decided by a touchdown or less. Mississippi State’s last win over Auburn was in 2012 (28-10).

Auburn at Mississippi State

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Auburn -3

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Three Things to Watch

1. Auburn’s Defense

As expected in the second year under coordinator Ellis Johnson, Auburn’s defense has taken a step forward on the stat sheet. The Tigers are allowing just 4.6 yards per play – No. 13 nationally after ranking No. 95 in 2013. Auburn’s defense also ranks second in the SEC by limiting opponents to just 14.4 points per game, second in the SEC in red zone defense and has generated 35 tackles for a loss. That’s the positive side of the numbers. On the downside, the Tigers have yet to play an offense with the explosive ability of Mississippi State. The Bulldogs are incredibly balanced, averaging 267.4 passing yards per game and 274.4 rushing yards a contest. Auburn’s defense will bend, but Johnson has put the clamps on opposing offenses on third downs and in the red zone. No defense has found the right answer to stopping quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Josh Robinson. Will the Tigers find the right formula on Saturday?

2. The Quarterbacks

Saturday’s huge showdown is a chance for both quarterbacks to stake their claim in the Heisman conversation. Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott averages 335.6 yards per game (8.2 yards per touch) and has accounted for 20 touchdowns through five contests. In last year’s game, Prescott passed for 213 yards and rushed for 133 yards and two scores in the Tigers’ 24-20 victory. Considering Prescott’s success last season and his offseason improvement, the junior presents a unique challenge to an Auburn defense that has played better so far in 2014. With all of the hype surrounding Prescott, it’s easy to forget how successful Nick Marshall has been for Auburn. The senior has passed for 755 yards and eight touchdowns and rushed for 392 yards and four scores so far in 2014. Marshall has tossed only one pick on 95 attempts and has three 100-yard rushing games over his last four contests. If you had to rank SEC quarterbacks, most would agree Prescott ranks ahead of Marshall in 2014 performance. And Prescott ranks ahead of Marshall in Heisman expert polls. Can the senior (Marshall) who is flying under the radar upstage the rising star in Prescott?

3. The Battle in the Trenches

Prescott and Marshall, along with skill talent in running backs Josh Robinson (Mississippi State) and Cameron Artis-Payne (Auburn) and receivers Jameon Lewis (Mississippi State) and Sammie Coates and Duke Williams (Auburn) should steal the show on Saturday. But don’t forget about the battle in the trenches, where it’s strength versus strength for both teams. Mississippi State’s front seven on defense has been tough to penetrate in 2014, limiting opponents to just 2.9 yards per carry and only two rushing scores. Marshall, Artis-Payne and speedster Corey Grant will test the effectiveness of the rush defense for the Bulldogs, and if they have success, Auburn’s playmakers on the outside will have opportunities to make plays against Mississippi State’s secondary. When the Bulldogs have the ball, they could struggle to find running room on the ground against the No. 3 rush defense in the SEC. Prescott and Robinson combined for 184 rushing yards against Texas A&M. Can Auburn’s rush defense – which has not allowed an opponent to record more than 138 yards in each of its last four games – hold strong at the point of attack?

Final Analysis

Mississippi State has arrived as a SEC title contender under coach Dan Mullen. Winning in Starkville is not easy, but Mullen has stayed the course, recruited and developed the right talent, and the Bulldogs are on the doorstep of owning the No. 1 ranking in most national polls. Just as Mississippi State is Auburn’s biggest challenge this year, the Bulldogs are facing their best opponent of 2014. The home-field advantage is huge a plus for Mullen, along with the return of receiver Jameon Lewis from injury and center Dillon Day from suspension. Offensive fireworks are expected with two offenses averaging over 40 points per game. However, don’t be surprised if this game is a lower-scoring matchup than most expect. Picking a winner isn’t easy. These two teams are relatively even.

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Prediction: Auburn 34, Mississippi State 31