Mississippi State Bulldogs (1-0, 0-0 ATS) at Auburn Tigers (1-0, 1-0 ATS)
Jordan-Hare Stadium Auburn, A.L. Saturday, Sept. 12th, 7:00PM Eastern
By Jay Horne of Predictem.com
Point Spread: Auburn -14
The SEC West will showcase two rebuilding teams in a late night tangle when the Auburn Tigers host the Mississippi State Bulldogs this Saturday night. Both teams are expected to see hard times in the half of the SEC that will be ruled by the likes of LSU, Alabama, and Ole Miss. However, both the Tigers and Bulldogs steamrolled weaker opponents in their openers and may not be as far off the totem pole as previously believed.
The Tigers routed Louisiana Tech 37-13 while the Bulldogs handled Jackson State 45-7. Of course things will get much tougher when the two square off this weekend in each team’s first conference battle. Auburn will be a two touchdown favorite to enter the event in what many expect to be a defensive controlled ball game. Both schools will be attempting to play the surprise factor in the conference this year, but will need to get off to a good start this Saturday night.
Auburn returns the majority of the same defense that ranked 14th nationally in scoring a year ago holding opponents to just 18 points per game. The Tigers defense is the area of the team that gives them hope they will be able to contend against the extremely tough teams of the SEC. In the Tigers opening win, the defense held Louisiana Tech to just 255 total yards and they will now look to shutdown the Bulldogs offense. The Auburn secondary may be among the best in America. After returning the 19th ranked pass defense, they could be even better this year.
The Tigers offense is the main area of focus needed for improvement. A year after one of the weakest offensive seasons in the last two decades the Tigers failed to rank inside the top 100 in 2008. The Auburn ground and pound game could be vital to the team getting back in the right direction this season. Ben Tate emerged as a big threat in 2008 and got off to a great start last week carrying the ball 20 times for 117 yards.
However, it was the freshman tailback by name of Onterio McCalebb who stole the show. McCalebb carried the ball 22 times for 147 yards and a touchdown in a big performance. If the two tailbacks can combine for that type of success this season, they could surprise teams. QB Chris Todd also had a solid performance completing 65% of his passes for 255 yards and 2 scores. Todd struggled in limited action last year throwing 6 picks to just 5 touchdowns. However, like the running game a lot will ride on his arm this year along with his ability to control the football.
Mississippi State is another team that will be led by defense this year. The Bulldogs have historically had a strong defense over the past few seasons, but has not maintained the firepower on offense to breakout of the bottom of the conference. Coach Dan Mullen looks to change things for the Bulldogs offense this season. Mullen will be adapting the spread offense which is much different from the old ball control style of the past.
QB Tyson Lee expected to see the most time behind center going into the season as the Bulldogs senior returning quarterback. Lee completed 9 for 14 for 97 yards in the opener, but it was another quarterback that stole the spotlight. Sophomore Chris Relf completed 7 for 10 passing for 75 yards while racking up 3 touchdowns through the air. Relf also rushed for 82 yards and another score in the impressive showing. Relf very well may best fit Mullen’s offense and expect him to see a good deal of playing time.
The Bulldogs defense will be the big area of concern this season. Mississippi State returns just 4 starters from a solid unit in 2008, but they will really have to focus to be equally strong this season especially with so much attention going towards the offensive side of the ball. Mississippi State allowed just 194 yards against Jackson State, but they are to get a much bigger test this weekend. The front 7 on defense must stop the run which will be the biggest area of attack from the Tigers running game. The Bulldogs will have some success behind Mullen’s new offense, but they must be able to have success up front on defense or it could be a long game.
Jay’s Pick - Interesting game here, similar teams who both need a win to get the confidence back up. A two score difference here would be surprising. Take Miss St +14.