Auburn vs. Mississippi State: Bulldogs Must Hold off Tigers D-Line to Win

Barrett SalleeFeatured Columnist IVApril 12, 2017

September 1, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Clemson Tigers quarterback Tajh Boyd (10) is sacked by Auburn Tigers defensive end Corey Lemonier (55) in the first half at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE
Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Lost in the mix of the first SEC games for Texas A&M and Missouri is an SEC West matchup that will likely define the season for both participants.

The Auburn vs. Mississippi State game has gone down to the wire in each of the last two seasons, and the 2012 edition is huge for both teams.

For the Tigers, it's a chance to rebound from last week's tough loss to Clemson and get a leg up on the rest of the SEC West with a win in the division. The Tigers are still likely a year away, but a road win vs. a competitive Mississippi State team would signify that they are headed in the right direction.

For the Bulldogs, this is the biggest game of Dan Mullen's career as a head coach. His teams are 3-12 in the SEC West as he enters his fourth season in Starkville, with all three of those wins coming over Ole Miss. Half of those losses were by 20 or more points.

Just how big is this game for Mullen? According to Brandon Marcello of the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger, Mullen's wife Megan says it's bigger than the annual Egg Bowl rivalry with Ole Miss.

That's pretty big.

The key in this game will be Mississippi State's ability to limit the impact of Auburn's defensive ends.

Corey Lemonier and Dee Ford combined for 13 tackles and three sacks against Clemson and could have had even better statistical games had it not been for quarterback Tajh Boyd's ability to make plays with his feet.

On the other side, Mississippi State's offensive tackles are relatively inexperienced. Left tackle Blaine Clausell started four games last year and Charles Siddoway is a junior college transfer who will likely split time with sophomore Damien Robinson.

Mississippi State has some solid weapons at wide receiver with Arceto Clark, Chad Bumphis and Chris Smith. But their impact will be negated if the Auburn pass rush is able to harass quarterback Tyler Russell.

All of the focus on Auburn's defense this week has been on its inability to tackle or cover receivers vs. Clemson. But a healthy pass rush solves a lot of problems. Auburn's ability to pressure Russell is the most important factor in Saturday's game and will likely determine its final outcome.