Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Auburn Realist: The Mississippi State Preview

I can't believe it is week 3 already! And, it is time to open up the SEC season. That's right. Things just got real. The Mississippi State game has come to define many Auburn seasons over the course of my lifetime. I have been to this game more than any other game. And each year, final records aside, this game has almost always been drama filled.

So, here we are off a fresh win against Arkansas State. No, the game wasn't as tight as I had expected in my Preview of the Arkansas State Game. My predicted score wasn't close, though the stats were. I gave myself a solid B- in predicting. I also wrapped up my visit to the Plains with the fam. I have a ton more pictures on my FaceBook Page.

Check out my other posts:
Washington State Game Preview
Washington State Game Review
Arkansas State Game Review

So, what can we expect from Mississippi State aside from cowbells? That's tough to say. They were soundly beaten by Oklahoma State for their opener and played a very outclassed Alcorn State team last week. The only things that jump out at me are:

  •  that they have played 3 QBs and all 3 have thrown a pick. Two were thrown against OSU, a team not usually known for great defenses.
  • a dual threat QB, Walsh, gave them all kinds of fits
  • LaDarius Perkins is a fantastic RB. He can beat you up between the tackles and catch the ball out of the backfield

So, while I can't speculate with any authority on State, I will do my best with what I know about Auburn. While both sides of the ball really struggled at times, they showed great promise in others. For example, the defense gave up a lot of yards again Saturday, but the goal line was like an iron curtain. Likewise, the offense had it's good drives and it's bad ones. The first and last drives of the first half were gorgeous. But a lot of the stuff in between looked suspect. Lots of holding penalties and the like. To be fair, the flags came out very easily for both sides of the ball on Saturday night, so I'm not sure what to think. You've heard that someone holds on every play...I guess the refs just felt like calling it a little more this week. We finally saw a deep ball connection, though it took several tries to make it work. The running game was quietly excellent.

While not fully on the Grant Bandwagon, I do recognize that he is eerily similar in skillset to Onterio McCalebb and used the same way. He might be as fast and he appears to have even better hands. Likewise, McCalebb had good games against State. In 2009, Auburn blasted State and McCalebb wracked up 114 yards on 16 carries with a 48 yard TD. In 2010 he had 70 yards with no TDs in a very tight game. In 2011 again had a solid, yet scoreless game. In 2012, he took a kickoff to the house as the lone highlight in a crushing loss. I expect Grant to have a similar role. While I was optimistic giving him 125 yards and a TD last week, I am going to tempter my expectations of him and say that I expect a McCalebb-ish 70 yards and a TD....though I am waiting on a screen pass instead of a jet sweep. It's worth pointing out that with a guy like Grant, he is one play from posting those numbers. He just didn't have the explosive play Saturday.

Maybe I am just downplaying Tre Mason's role. I keep saying that I expect CAP to take his carries, but Tre takes his 15 carries a game and posts decent stats. I have to admit that his cuts against ASU were clean and his speed and elusiveness is hard to ignore. And while I want to give him his due, this game won't be won with an all-purpose back. I expect a pedestrian day for Mason as he prepares for LSU. Before you call me a hater....I said....he prepares for LSU. That will be his game.

CAP, on the other hand, will be doing work. Why? I'll get to that in a second, but let's just say that there will be a lot of short yardage situations in this game. I expect 2 TDs on 50-75 yards of rushing.

MSU will be expecting the ground game. Wouldn't you? Auburn has legitimately 4 guys who could go 100+ yards each in Mason/CAP/Grant/Marshall. I believe the stacked box will be the order of the day for the MSU defense, which will ultimately be their undoing. With the losses of two high NFL defensive backs from last year, MSU could possibly "reload", but you aren't going to replace Banks and Slay. This is a "rebuild year" in the best of terms. Consider that State lost the very coach who turned those guys into NFL picks in Melvin Smith....now making a head-turning unit with Harbison at Auburn. You can't expect to replace the players AND the coach.

OSU showed what will happen to this defensive unit with a mobile QB like Walsh. And while Walsh lit it up again this last week, he is not the runner that Marshall is. I don't believe there is a QB in college football than can run with Marshall. That being said, Auburn won't win with the run...in the simplest of terms. Do I think they will have success? Absolutely. I just gave my predictions on it and I just gave up 3 TDs between Grant and CAP. But I think the game breaker is the play action pass. The new secondary at MSU will get frozen feet at least twice and get torched by the Auburn receivers. The only question to me is: Will Marshall make a semi-accurate pass and will the receivers give 100% effort. Even against ASU, at least one long ball was given up on. It wasn't the best throw, but it should have been catchable. These receivers must learn that Marshall is the most deadly to throw down the field when he is extending plays. It's obvious that this coaching staff wants to go downtown. If they can do it to an appreciable extent, they can blow the doors off this MSU defense. Marshall  knows he can run at any point. The coaching staff knows he can run at any point. He could possibly, with help from Mason/CAP/Grant, win the day entirely running....but that won't beat the rest of the SEC-W. I can totally see him running one in, but I think he is being coached heavily to develop his touch and relationship with his receivers. Better to learn it now then try and learn it then. No that I think Marshall is in any way comparable to Cam, but I was questioning Cam's accuracy at this point in 2010. Again, the hidgepoint is...can Auburn establish a versatile running game early? I don't mean between the tackles. I mean, in all phases of the Gus HUNH run game. If they can get the corners up close to the line of scrimmage to stop the jet sweet and swing passes, Marshall will have plenty of opportunity. Since he will be throwing the ball more, I see quick drives down the field that will set up goal line situations for CAP.  Marshall has a decent game running, but throws for 200 yards and 2 TDs.

Parkey gets a field goal at some point. Possibly the last drive of the half in a 2 minute drill.

Still not sold on some aspects of our D-Line. They had trouble containing Kennedy, who led ASU in rushing. Not to worry, though, because Tyler Russell isn't a threat to take off and beat them around the edge. And heaven help him if he meets Therezie in the open.....Of course, that is if Russell plays...since he has been injured. What does bother me is that Russell is a very good pocket passer. He is also tough to bring down. Auburn has shown an inability to crash the pocket. Even if they get there, I am worried about being able to get Russell down before he throws it away, or checks the ball down to Perkins. If they can't get to him at all, it won't matter how much the Auburn secondary has improved.

It will be interesting to see how Auburn plays against Perkins. I think the D-line is perfectly suited to stop a power run. I also believe that the LBs are capable of playing well against a down hill back. The only thing that bothers me about Perkins is the same thing that has hurt Auburn the past 2 games, which you can bet Mullen has taken note: The RB checkdown out of the backfield.

In the rest of the offense, I don't see the weapons that State needs to beat Auburn. Without a Bumphis-type physical receiver, beating Auburn with the passing game just doesn't seem likely. Though I admit that the stats say that gaining yards in the air against Auburn is possible, it has to be short gains. And, Auburn has proven to be able to keep offenses out of the endzone, even after getting yardage put on them.  Their only chance would be out muscling the Auburn secondary, but I don't think  they have that man on their roster.

Then there are other things to consider. Mullen's record has fallen off since his entry as the MSU coach, and this year won't go any better. I expect MSU to finish dead last in the SEC-W. This game will be close at the end of the 1st quarter. It might be close at halftime. Auburn runs away with a win.

The BFZ Game Breaking Moment:
A read option play action pass early in the 3rd quarter. After getting beat around the edge by Grant in the first half, further beaten when Marshall pulls the ball and keeps it up the middle a few times, the MSU corners stumble out of the blocks when cheating up on the line of scrimmage and Marshall deep bombs MSU to go up 28-10.

BFZ's Player of the Game:
This one is easy. By the second half, MSU won't know if Marshall is coming or going.
Adam's on the defensive side of the ball will have the opportunity to use his instincts against a pocket passer. He has struggled with mobile passers or passers who flip the ball in the flats. Russell won't run on him and I think he will get a lot of LB help with Perkins. I see a sack in his future...maybe even a QB fumble.

Final Score: 
Auburn 38-State 17