Coming off a heartbreaking 26-19 loss to Clemson, the pressure will be ratcheted up for the Auburn Tigers as they hit the road to play Mississippi State in a battle of SEC West rivals on Saturday.
Just two years removed from a national championship, head coach Gene Chizik's squad came into 2012 with high expectations. Nevertheless, the team struggled to find a consistent running attack and to stop Clemson's vaunted running game throughout Week 1.
With an 0-2 start threatening, it's vital that the Tigers come out on top Saturday. Otherwise, they can essentially kiss a January bowl game goodbye before we even hit the midpoint of September.
For that reason, here's a quick look at Auburn's keys to victory as the team heads into Starkville this weekend.
Stop the Run
It seems like an obvious suggestion. Nevertheless, after giving up 320 yards on the ground to Clemson last week, there is no more important focus in practice this week than run defense for Auburn.
With Vick Ballard finally graduated, new Mississippi State running back LaDarius Perkins will want to make his first massive impact as starter Saturday.
Considering that this will be Tyler Russell's first SEC start as the unquestioned starting quarterback, it's likely that head coach Dan Mullen relies on Perkins early in the game.
For Auburn to have any shot of taking down the Bulldogs on their home turf, it's necessary for the team to key on stuffing the run at the point of attack. If successful, that would put the game in the unsteady hands of Russell and play right into Auburn's strategy.
Get Anything of Substance from Kiehl Frazier
After beating out Clint Moseley for the starting job in the offseason, Week 1 of the Frazier Era didn't get off to a rousing start.
The sophomore dual-threat went just 11-of-27 for 197 yards with both a touchdown and interception as the Tigers offense struggled against Clemson. And that dual-threat thing? Yeah, not so much. Frazier had a long of just five yards as the quarterback lost nine yards on as many carries.
While his struggles may bother some Tigers fans, don't look for a quarterback controversy yet. Chizik and the coaching staff desperately want the highly touted quarterback to succeed. On paper, he's a perfect fit for the team's system and gives a dimension on the ground that Moseley does not.
Nevertheless, Frazier will need to start harnessing his immense potential if Auburn hopes to come out on top Saturday.
Pound the Ground With Two-Headed Rushing Attack
Even though Frazier struggled against Clemson through the air, it was seemingly impossible for the Tigers' running backs to be stopped.
Incumbent starter Onterio McCalebb performed admirably, carrying the ball 12 times for 82 yards on Saturday. But it was sophomore Tre Mason that seemed like the more explosive back. Though he fumbled later in the drive, a second-quarter 30-yard run should have been the key play on a scoring drive for Auburn.
If the split continues going forward, the Tigers rushing attack could be among the best in the SEC.
While as a whole the Mississippi State defense performed well against Jackson State, its biggest weakness was in run defense. The Bulldogs allowed 109 yards on 21 attempts, good for 5.2 yards per carry.
Considering Jackson State was an overmatched FCS opponent, there may be a gaping hole in the Mississippi State run defense going forward. For Auburn, that can only mean good things as the team looks for any advantage it can get heading into Starkville.
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