Two of the SEC’s top defenses will grind it out on Saturday afternoon when Auburn visits Stark Vegas for a western division showdown against Mississippi State. The Tigers will be looking to establish the pace by finding production on the ground, while the Bulldogs likely will take a more balanced approach in hopes of scoring the upset.
Mississippi State is coming off a bye week after back-to-back road trips — a loss to LSU and a win at UMass — so it will be glad to be back in Davis-Wade Stadium. Mississippi State hasn’t looked bad since losing to South Alabama in the opener. It’s no Dak Prescott-led team, but Dan Mullen's Bulldogs can still be competitive in the SEC West.
Auburn is looking for its third straight win on Saturday. The Tigers have only lost to top 10 teams this season, falling in week one to Clemson and then two weeks later to Texas A&M. But a win over LSU a couple weeks ago pumped new life into this program. Oddly enough, this will be the Tigers’ first road game of the season.
In the series, Mississippi State has won three of the last four against Auburn, including a 17-9 victory last year in Jordan-Hare Stadium. Before the arrival of Prescott, however, the Tigers had won 10 of the previous 11 matchups — mostly by large margins. Auburn owns the all-time series lead 61-26-2 but hasn’t won in Starkville since Cam Newton was quarterback.
Auburn at Mississippi State
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 8 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: SEC Network
Spread: Auburn -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Auburn’s Running Game
The Tigers lead the way in the SEC, averaging just under 270 rushing yards per game. We knew coming into the season that this team had quarterback concerns and would need to go back to its bread and butter in order to have success in the western division. Despite being down three top running backs, Auburn has done just that behind a physical offensive line. Sophomore Kerryon Johnson already has over 500 rushing yards and six touchdowns. His classmate, Kamryn Pettway, isn’t far behind with 336 yards through five games. The system is working, and Auburn is always better when it can run the football.
That Auburn running game is pretty potent but it could have a difficult time on Saturday against the SEC’s No. 4 run defense. Mississippi State appears to be markedly better on that side of the ball — particularly in stopping the run — and the Bulldogs also rank fourth in the SEC in total defense. Luckily for the Tigers, they also have one of the SEC’s best defenses, as they rank fifth in total defense. Auburn’s defensive strength lies more in its secondary but the front seven can get after quarterbacks as well. Neither of these teams have gotten superb quarterback play so it will be interesting to see which defense is able to capitalize on mistakes in this game.
3. Auburn Kicker Daniel Carlson
So, speaking of those defenses... this is probably going to be a low-scoring game and possessions will be limited. Auburn has struggled tremendously to score touchdowns in the red zone this year, punching it in just 11 times on 27 trips, but it has an exceptional field goal kicker in Carlson. He has made 12 of his 13 field goal attempts, good for 92 percent, which leads the SEC. The Tigers have been able to come away with field goals when they can’t get touchdowns and if the War Eagle defense continues to play the way it has been — allowing only 16 points per game — this one could come down to Carlson’s leg.
Both teams have strong defenses. Both teams have quarterback issues. Auburn has more talent from top to bottom, but Mississippi State is playing at home and those cow bells are not easy to deal with. All of that may even out, making this a tight game. However, Auburn has the better running game and eventually Gus Malzahn’s team should wear down the Bulldogs up front. I think this will be a fourth-quarter game but the Tigers will get it done in the end. It could very likely come down to a field goal from Auburn kicker Daniel Carlson.