September 9, 2010
What a great start to a great SEC football weekend. This game is like watching a Triple-A Baseball All Star game. Players and Coaches, whose names we don't know just yet, who are destined to be in the big time soon. Possibly even this year. Of all these names, I like Manny Diaz and I'll tell you why in a minute. Cam Newton, Mike Dyer, Jefferey Whitaker and Quindarious Carr for Auburn. Les Koenning, Fletcher Cox, Pernell McPhee, Josh Boyd, Chris White and Maurice Langston, for Mississippi State. They won't be playing for all the marbles tonight, but this is about as good as SEC football gets.
Davis Wade Stadium will be rocking long before kickoff as MSU welcomes the Auburn Tigers for a prime time Thursday night showdown on ESPN. There are so many factors in this game that this "article" may come across as more of a free association and I'm okay with that if you are. I'm trying to break down games and make predictions, not get people to love me.
Here are a few important ones;
MSU Offensive Coordinator Les Koenning was the former OC for Dennis Franchionne at Alabama. The primary thing Coach K does well is design a game plan within his talent. He has a sharp eye for defensive weaknesses and he knows how to exploit them.
These teams hold the top two spots nationally in pass efficiency.
MSU has won their last 20 games when entering the 4th quarter with a lead. They have lost their last 14 games when entering the 4th quarter while trailing.
This game is still not a sellout. How is that possible? It only seats 56,000. Yes Auburn fans, I'm talking to you too. It's not that far of a drive.
MSU absolutely dismantled a loaded Ole Miss team in the 2009 Egg Bowl with less talent than they will put on the field tonight.
First year starter Cam Newton led Auburn against Arkansas State with 186 yards passing and 171 yards rushing. It is worth noting that he was still playing in the 4th quarter and I'm not sure why. Mike Dyer showed flashes of his obvious talent running with the football but this week he must play at a high level without the ball in his hands. Onterrio McCalebb averaged almost 9 yards per carry and Mario Fannin looked good in every phase of the game minus the one fumble. Darvin Adams and Terrell Zachery are proven commodities but Quindarious Carr is going to repeatedly burn teams until he is made a substantial part of the defensive plan. The most important detail going into this game for Auburn's offense is Cam Newton. If he raises his game to SEC standards, Auburn wins. But if he thinks he's going to half-ass his way through ball fakes and just throw it up to a wide open receiver, or pull it down to run before going through his progressions to pad his stats and personal glory, the way he was still doing in the 4th quarter against Arkansas State, he is in for a rude awakening.
Concerns me. This defense gave up 330 yards passing and 4 touchdowns to Arkansas State. Tackling remains a problem. Too many blitz packages had to be shown against Arkansas State in the red zone. Why was Arkansas State in the red zone? Zac Etheridge better get it together fast. I do not believe that T'Sharvan Bell can cover Chad Bumphis, Leon Berry or Brandon Heavens. The defensive line is fine and provides QB pressure and that is the most important part to this particular game.
Both teams have proven senior talent at punter and placekicker. Desmond Washington could be a difference maker.
Mississippi State Offense
Former Parkview High School (Lilburn, Ga.) standout JC Brignone anchors an athletic and talented Offensive Line for MSU. In the season opener against Memphis, MSU managed 569 yards of offense with SEC Freshman of the Week, Tyler Russell going 13-16 for 256 yards and 4 TD's. Starter Chris Relf was 7-9 for 116 yards and 1 TD. Look for Les Koenning to exploit the weakness of the Auburn secondary and for those big passing numbers to continue.
Vick Ballard led MSU in rushing in the season opener with 60 yards on 11 carries with a long run of 51 yards. That leaves 10 rushes for 9 yards. Against Memphis. The Auburn D may be struggling a little but they definitely are not Memphis.
MSU pounded out 28 first downs in the win against Memphis. That is evidence of an offense that can stay on the field and move the chains-or more importantly for Auburn-tire out a defense. Yards After Catch will be the most important stat in this game for MSU.
Mississippi State Defense
First year defensive coordinator, Manny Diaz, arrives in the SEC from a successful four year stint at Middle Tennessee State. In 2009 his defense was second nationally in TFL's, stopping MORE THAN 8 PLAYS PER GAME behind the line of scrimmage and also ranked sixth nationally in QB sacks with 3 per game. Coach Diaz has plenty of talent with Pernell McPhee, Fletcher Cox and Josh Boyd on the DL. If this unit puts pressure on Cam Newton, and can bring him down, Mississippi State wins this game.
Keys to the Game
How does first year Auburn QB, Cam Newton, handle 50,000 Mississippi State fans ringing cowbells?
How does an Auburn team that played 14 freshmen in the season opener navigate it's first road game, on 3.5-4 days preparation, in the white hot spotlight of a nationally televised, ESPN, prime time circus?
Does Miss. St. believe they can win?
The bottom line here is that Auburn returns an intact coaching staff, has had one better recruiting class and has capable, backup QB's all the way down to the 4 spot.
If the ball stays off the ground, Auburn wins 31-24.
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