Auburn Football: Key Players in the Tigers' SEC Showdown with Mississippi State

Tyler ConwayFeatured ColumnistSeptember 8, 2012

September 1, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Auburn Tigers head coach Gene Chizik walks off the field after losing to the Clemson Tigers at the Georgia Dome. Clemson won 26-19. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE
Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Coming off a disappointing 26-19 defeat against Clemson, it's necessary for the Auburn Tigers to have a comeback performance against the Mississippi State Bulldogs on Saturday.

After winning the national championship in 2010, an 8-4 campaign last season marred Tigers head coach Gene Chizik's defense of the title. For Chizik to avoid the scorn of Auburn faithful and avoid the hot seat, he has to avoid the school's first 0-2 start since 2003.

Standing in the way is a Mississippi State team riding high with confidence after a 56-9 destruction of FCS school Jackson State. A win to start the SEC slate would be huge for Bulldogs head coach Dan Mullen, who has struggled to revitalize the program since taking over in 2009. 

Regardless, this is a far more vital game for the Tigers. Expectations were high heading into the season, and going down in consecutive weeks all but finishes Auburn's hopes of a BCS bowl run.

With that in mind, here's a look at the key players for an Auburn victory. 

Kiehl Frazier

After struggling through the air against Clemson, completing 11-of-27 for 197 yards with both a touchdown and interception, it's imperative that the Tigers' dual-threat has a comeback performance on Saturday.

The highly touted star won the job from Clint Moseley in the offseason, a decision that surprised very few because of the varied skill set Frazier brings to the table. 

However, to avoid any talk of a controversy, the sophomore quarterback must focus on getting his legs working as much as his arm. Considered a dynamic force on the ground, Frazier gained just nine yards on as many carries last week.

If Auburn hopes to win on the road at Mississippi State on Saturday, the will need Frazier to prove he's worthy of the hype. 

Onterio McCalebb

Led by McCalebb, the running game was one of few areas in which the Tigers excelled against Clemson. Splitting carries with sophomore Tre Mason, the two-headed attack rushed for 188 yards on just 26 carries.

Going forward, the two will likely continue sharing time. Nevertheless, Auburn is going to rely more on McCalebb to carry the team on a consistent basis. The 23-year-old has been a key contributor for each of the past four seasons, rushing for 2,098 yards in his storied career with the Tigers.

With explosive speed and the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, McCalebb is the type of back that can change the momentum in a matter of seconds. If Auburn needs a big play on the ground, it's likely the team will look for McCalebb to make it happen.

And with Mississippi State giving up over five yards per carry in their opener against Jackson State, look for McCalebb to hit the end zone at least once Saturday.

Corey Lemonier

Following a huge game for the Tigers defensive line against Clemson, it could be another big day on Saturday.

The Bulldogs' top tackles, Blaine Clausell and Charles Siddoway, have just six career starts under their belt and could be vulnerable against a strong rush. 

That inexperience will likely lead to big things for the Tigers' defensive end. Highly recruited out of high school, Lemonier has been a star since setting foot on the Auburn campus. In his breakout sophomore campaign, the 6'4" physical marvel had 9.5 sacks for the season, including two multi-sack games.

Lemonier got his first multi-sack game in Week 1, taking Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd down twice in Auburn's loss. For the Tigers to come away victorious against the Bulldogs Saturday, they'll need penetration from Lemonier and Dee Ford to make it happen.