For the fourth consecutive year, Auburn started the season with several key members of the team that had apparently forgotten the fundamentals of playing football during the offseason. Botched tackles was especially evident in the first outing, as has been the case every year of the last four.
Some of these botched tackles can be attributed to an outstanding effort by opposition players, but the majority remains the sole responsibility of experienced players who should know how to tackle by this point in their career. The root cause of this problem points directly back to some deficiency in preparing the team to begin the season.
Auburn goes into Week 2 facing a Mississippi State team that is replacing a ton of the core of their team from last season. This is a team that rushed for 194 and passed for 183 yards against Jackson State. They also surrendered 109 yards rushing and 156 yards passing to this Division II team that only lost to Alabama State and Grambling last season.
Auburn comes into this game averaging 194 yards passing and 180 yards rushing while allowing 208 yards passing and 320 yards rushing on the season so far. During the 2011 season, Auburn allowed 221 yards passing and 227 yards rushing per outing.
In 2011, Auburn allowed Clemson 386 yards passing and 238 yards rushing due primarily to poor fundamentals, exactly as was the case during 2012, when the Tigers gave up 208 yards passing and 320 yards rushing.
In this game, Auburn will be the most formidable opponent that Auburn faces. If this team suddenly remembers how to execute the most basic fundamentals of football, they will be too much for a rebuilding Mississippi State team. If they only improve a little on fundamentals, this game will be an absolute struggle to win. If Auburn plays as they did in the first week, this game will be a hard win for Mississippi State.
No particular player or position for Auburn played better than expected during the first game, and several played well below expectations. Offensive play-calling appeared to be suspect on only a few occasions during the first game, and for the most part was solid. Defensive play-calling was solid throughout the first game.
Execution for Auburn on both offense and defense remains very inconsistent, a trait expected from a team that changed both offensive and defensive strategies only a few months ago. The lack of execution skills of the basic fundamentals of football by experienced players is baffling but consistent.
Mississippi State had a poor defensive outing against Jackson State. They recorded 29 solo tackles and 26 assists during the game. They allowed well over five yards per carry to this Division II team during this first game. They only faced 59 offensive plays during this contest. Jackson State largely controlled their own offense with poor execution, but did sustain two long, impressive multiple-play drives.
Jackson State was able to complete 20 of 38 passes for 156 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. The Mississippi State offense was only delayed by time running out with the exception of only one drive, where poor execution caused a punt. Mississippi State either scored a touchdown or at least attempted a field goal on the other seven drives during the game.
The Mississippi State defense looked extremely suspect in the first game. They were slow to apply pressure on the quarterback and did not seem overly impressive at stopping the rushing plays at the line of scrimmage. They are big and strong on the defensive line but appear sluggish in execution.
The Mississippi State starting linebackers combined for 3.5 tackles in the first game, and the defensive line starters accumulated even less. Matthew Wells, a backup linebacker, and Denico Autry, a starting defensive end, both recorded sacks.
Mississippi State played this game in a very basic fashion, simply overwhelming this Division II opponent with talent. It is unlikely Auburn will see a repeat performance from Mississippi State. Most accounts have the Bulldogs focusing on this Auburn game since just after their bowl game to end the 2011 season.
Auburn will see a very different Mississippi State effort in the game this week.
On a positive note, Auburn managed 44 tackles and 52 assists in their first outing while facing 87 offensive plays. Auburn applied timely and steady pressure on the opposing quarterback for the entire game.
Auburn was able to rush effectively for the majority of the game. Kiehl Frazier did not crack mentally and make a lot of mistakes in his first outing as the Auburn starting quarterback. The fullbacks and tight ends looked good in execution during the first game.
On paper, Auburn should win this game handily. History tells us that Auburn will arrive ill-prepared in fundamentals and make mistakes that will give Mississippi State a chance to win the football game.
It has been over four years since Auburn fans watched a fundamentally sound football team early in the season. Expect more of the same in this game.
Kiehl Frazier should see enough improvement in his second contest as a starter to pull the Tigers to a close victory—or not so close, if his teammates remember to execute their basic assignments in the fundamentals of football.