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russell2It's amazing the amount of importance that can be placed on a single game. For MSU, the next 3 weeks could signal the fact that Mullen and the Bulldogs have turned the corner, or it could also reveal the fact that they are not quite there yet. One things for sure, clarity is on the brink, and many questions will be answered tonight. Auburn comes into Starkville ranked 21st in the nation, hoping to replicate their 2009 beginnings, in which the Tigers clawed to 5-0 start. Can MSU earn the SEC's and the country's respect? Can Auburn keep up their momentum as a program on the rise? Let's take look...

All eyes will be on two players for sure, that would be the SEC Freshman of the Week-Tyler Russell, and the SEC Offensive Player of the Week-Cam Newton. Russell passed for 256 yards, on 13-16 passing, for 4 TDs. Newton, known for his duel-threat abilities, rushed for 171 yards, threw for 185 more, and posted 3 TDs. But, there is one player, who if ignored, could have the biggest effect on the outcome of Thursday's battle. That player, is MSU QB Chris Relf. The Bulldogs ran what Dan Mullen even admitted to as being a 'vanilla' style of offense, in the Memphis game this past Saturday. One of the main things that made the offense appear so 'basic', was the fact that Relf wasn't given as many carries as everyone expected. This of course, was done in order to keep Auburn from gaining insight and or any type of edge, against MSU's rushing attack. Even though Mullen held back, the offense still racked up 569 total yards, 197 of those being rushing yards. In Auburn's case, it didn't appear that Gene Chizik or Gus Malzahn held back, attacking through the air and on the ground, to the tune of 608 total yards.

Though both teams have an 'explosive' offense, the Tiger and Bulldog defenses differed greatly in overall performance, this past Saturday. Auburn surrendered 26 points and 366 yards to Arkansas State, while MSU surrended just 7 points and 230 total yards to Memphis. To make it even worse for Auburn, Arkansas State was in the game up until the 3rd quarter, until Newton broke loose on a 70+ yard TD run. MSU on the otherhand, didn't allow Memphis to convert on a 3rd down until the final minutes of the game. Now, one can argue that Arkansas State is a much better opponent than Memphis, but we are talking Arkansas State and Memphis...worth your breath?

Here's how the 2 teams stack up...

Auburn MSU
Pass Off. 241 ypg (52nd) 372 ypg (8th)
Rush Off. 367 ypg (6th) 197 ypg (42nd)
Total Off. 608 ypg (3rd) 569 ypg (7th)
Rush Def. 43 ypg 41 ypg
Pass Def. 323 yds 196 ypg
Total Def. 366 yds 237 ypg
Scoring Off. 52 ppg (8th) 49 ppg (15th)
Scoring Def. 26 ppg 7 ppg
3rd Down % 50% 50%

My Thoughts:After scouting Auburn, it's clear to see that there are some holes in the defense. Word out of the Auburn camp this week, has been that the Tigers plan to pressure the Bulldogs more than they did Arkansas State. This is where I say thank you Manny Diaz. The new MSU Def. Coordinator, threw everything but the kitchen sink at Relf and Russell during the off season, and I think after practicing against that attacking style of D, it will only help the two Bulldog QBs on Thursday night. If the Bulldog OL can protect the QBs the way they did this past Saturday, Russell and Relf should benefit from the blitzes, and find the open man. The danger in the MSU passing game lies in the underneath passes, and the WRs' ability to create after the catch. There's no doubt that MSU's WRs and overall offense is more talented than Arkansas State's, so you have to assume that the Bulldogs will put up some points and yards. Passing game aside, MSU's rushing game has multiple weapons, and an effective read-option from Relf and Co., could gash the Auburn D, and wear down the Tigers. If State can run the ball the way they want to, the passing game will naturally open up. And considering that Mullen now has a QB who can thread the needle and stretch the field, only adds to the Bulldog attack. One thing the Tigers are not prepared for, is multiple snap-takers, and packages. Bumphis could take some snaps, possibly others. 

For the Tigers, they torched the Dawgs last season, 49-24. 390 yards rushing, Chris Todd had his way by finding WRs who slipped behind the coverage, trust me, it was ugly-I was there. This year, Auburn has a QB who can run, with 3 good RBs in Dyer, Fannin, and McCalebb. Those RBs can also catch out of the backfield, and should play a big role in bailing out Newton on blitzes. If MSU's Nickoe Whitley, Charles Mitchell, and the LB core cannot contain the dump-off routes, MSU will be allowing Auburn to convert, and stay on the field for a lot longer than they like. Just like last year, MSU must crack down on their zone coverage, because Auburn continually snuck behind defenders for huge chunks of yards at a time. Quindarius Carr and Darvin Adams, are two strong WRs to keep an eye on. As far as handling Newton, the fact is, the kid is gonna make plays. Like Diaz said yesterday, "he's gonna get his", and you just have to try and contain 'how much' damage the kid does. State must force Newton to get rid of the ball under 'pocket pressure', and not allow him to roll out and have the option of running it, or throwing on the run. The kind of athlete Newton is, it just plays into his favor. MSU must make sure they land a majority of their blitzes, otherwise Auburn has the speed to get in front of you.

My Prediction: MSU 31- Auburn 21. Auburn better get ready for the loudest night in Davis Wade Stadium history. ESPN, with the whole nation watching, a resurrected and raucous fan base will not hold back their cowbells in fear of the SEC, and that adds a major edge for MSU. The MSU defense will hold Auburn to their lowest point total of the season, with their 'attacking style' forcing a fumble and 2 interceptions. Auburn scored 29 times last season, on drives shorter than 2 minutes. But, I feel that the Dawg D will make them work hard for the yards that the Tigers usually earn in bulk, resulting in a loss of momentum and rhythm on drives. Having to punt 6 or 7 times, Chad Bumphis will set the Bulldogs up with good field position on more than one occasion. I look for Relf to have his best rushing game in his career, for Tyler to post over 200 yards, and for Perkins to stand out amongst the Bulldog RBs. State's D will hold Auburn under 400 yards, which is a victory in itself. With the win, MSU marches down to Baton Rouge, as confident as ever. And, with the loss, Auburn ends the season on an undefeated, regular season run to Atlanta.

Mullen: “I don’t know if it’s the make or break game for the season, but it certainly is going to start you off in the right direction.”  Chizik on MSU:  "Night and day. Night and day from what I saw last year."

Your Prediction?

...There's nothing else to talk about today!