Auburn Football: 10 Things You Need to Know About Mississippi State
The Mississippi State Bulldogs set school records against the Memphis Tigers last Thursday night, their season opener on the road in the River City.
MSU out-performed Memphis, with a domination that was present from the start, on both sides of the ball.
This was their season opener, an important game to every team, but especially those that wish to be a contender, either in the league or the BCS.
Auburn, on the other hand did not perform well. I know you’re tired of hearing it, but the Utah State Aggies made Swiss cheese out of the Auburn defense. Gone were the blitzes and tight coverage the Plainsmen were known for last year, and there was a basic lack of aggressiveness.
But, the Tigers did show something late in the game, scoring two touchdowns in the final 2:07, and a remarkable on-side kick recovery by Emory Blake. The Special Teams for Auburn were brilliant all day.
But the kind of defense Auburn played will get you killed against Mississippi State, and there are many things you and the Tigers should know about the Bulldogs.
1: Offensive Starters Return
Rick Dole/Getty Images
The majority of Mississippi State's starting offensive line is back from last year.
The Bulldogs in general have consistently started improving since Dan Mullen hit Starkville. These guys humiliated Michigan in last year’s Gator Bowl 52-14 completing a nine win season and Coach Dan Mullen’s second year with the program.
In last week's win over Memphis, they were instrumental in the offense breaking school records with 645 yards of total offense.
With these offensive starters one year more mature, the Auburn defense will face more of a hardship than they did against Utah State.
2: No Longer Under-Bulldogs
Mississippi State was always considered an underachiever, but not this year
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Mississippi State’s football program has suffered for years, maybe decades with only glimmers of hope under head coaches like Jackie Sherrill back in the late 90s.
But they were never seriously considered as contenders, either in the SEC, or the nation. They seemed to be perpetual underdogs.
Now there’s a new swagger about the Bulldogs that has some consistency built into it, and that desire can get you beat if you underestimate them.
This is not you father's Mississippi State Bulldogs and the Auburn Tigers had better take notice.
3: The Suspended 5 Return
Head Coach Dan Mullen suspended five players from the Memphis game just two hours before kickoff.
The reason was for undisclosed team violations, but it looked like the Bulldogs didn’t missed them at all.
Speculation is that the five will return for the Auburn game.
Now, considering that only one of the five was a starter, that shouldn’t mean too much, and MSU looked pretty tough without them.
But, when you consider that the one of the five is Defensive Tackle Fletcher Cox, All SEC returning DT, then the Dogs just got a little tougher on defense, something that the Tiger offense, although gelling much better, doesn't need.
Barrett Trotter and the offensive line would be wise to watch some of last year’s game footage of Cox and multiply by two.
4: Higher Expectations
MSU Head Coach Dan Mullen says that his players this year have “higher expectations" than in years past.
What that means is that MSU had consistently settled, or become resigned to their place in the SEC. They might win one here and there, but never quite taken seriously. However, as I said before they are no longer considered the underdogs.
That puts a team in a mindset that they can be contenders, they can win the SEC West, or dare I say it, the BCS Title—setting "higher expectations."
It would be a long shot, but so was Auburn last year at this point in the season.
Auburn needs that “eye-of-the-tiger” mentality back in their arsenal, or the Bulldogs will take a bite and keep on moving wherever they want to go. We saw it at the end of the Utah State game, it just needs to come back, but you should know this about MSU.
5: Big Plays
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Head Coach Dan Mullen said after the big win over Memphis, “I love big plays. I love all those explosive plays.”
And, the Bulldogs had several of them with Vick Ballard going on two romps of 46 and 66 yards, and it took Jameon Lewis only four catches to rack up 113 yards.
If you put last Saturday’s Auburn Defense against big play makers like that, and you can get behind very quickly.
And, on MSU you don’t come back as easily as against a Utah State.
Mississippi State moved up in the polls by four points from last week to No. 15 in the AP and No. 16 in the Coaches Poll.
Yes, it is too early in the season after one win to tell, and yes, as the coaches say to their players, polls are for the fans.
But, if you don’t think that kind of jump gives a team a boost of confidence, you have to be kidding yourself.
The Bulldogs will be coming into Jordan-Hare Stadium with a head of steam that is the kind of intangible to make you win. Granted, it could go the other direction, as one of my high school coaches used to say, “stop readin’ your clippins” when the team seemed over-confident.
But, it's been so long since MSU had that kind of notoriety, I don’t think a big head has had time to develop yet.
Auburn should be out for something to prove and play every down against the Dogs like the last 2:00 of last week's game.
7: Head Coach Dan Mullen
Rick Dole/Getty Images
You probably already knew this about the Bulldogs' head coach, but he is on a quest.
In just his third season, he’s managed to bring Mississippi State into the land of the living, true contenders that can beat you on any given Saturday.
He started from day one by hitting the recruiting circuit on a bus tour throughout Mississippi to keep some of the top recruits from going out of state or worse, up to that school up north, Ole Miss.
He has taken recruiting to an art form succeeding in getting the best of Mississippi, and now the nation too.
He's been to the big show at Florida winning a National Championship and coaching Tim Tebow. You think he wants to go there again, this time as head coach? You bet he does. It can be addicting.
I believe inspirationally, Mullen is a lot like Auburn Head Coach Gene Chizik, because he has certainly done something to raise the self esteem of the average MSU player. Maybe winning has something to do with that too.
Auburn's been there, and they'll need to resurrect the desire that got them there last year, and also helped win last week's game. Only it will need to come sooner than the last three minutes.
8: Jameon Lewis
This redshirt freshman is a case in point to Dan Mullen’s recruiting efforts and to their ability to make big plays.
He was a top Mississippi recruit, who committed in 2009 and sat out last year. But in just his first collegiate game, Lewis managed to catch four passes for 113 yards and one TD, in which he caught a pass, broke three tackles and ran for the 80-yard score.
He did fumble a punt return and twice stepped out of bounds on the two on questionable kickoff catches, which caught the ire of Mullen. But, he can make the big plays on offense.
Lewis and plays he makes when receiving can cause Auburn fans to shake their heads and head for their car.
9: Vick Ballard
He reminds you of Michael Dyer, not all that tall, but packed and ready to explode for big gains.
The 5'11", 220 pound senior at Mississippi State is the running back that gained 166 yards and three touchdowns last Thursday against Memphis.
Two of his possessions got him 46 and 66 yards each and he can run over people. Also, this is the fifth time in his career that the running back has scored three in a game. He has 23 touchdowns in 13 games with the Bulldogs since his Junior College transfer.
In Week 1 of the season, he leads the SEC in rushing and stands at fifth in the nation.
For last week’s performance, he was named the SEC Player of the Week.
If Auburn doesn’t want for him to repeat that performance, then they’ll need to plug up those holes and get the Defense to offer some containment on the outside. An option play from Relf to Ballard could mean disaster otherwise.
10: Chris Relf
Chris Relf in 2011, has a Newtonesque quality to his play that can mean disaster for opponents
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Auburn saw him last year and in a heartbreaker for the Bulldogs, the Tigers were able to pull it out, winning by only three points.
This year Relf has transformed into a true threat, not just to Auburn but to the entire SEC.
Last year he was no slouch and he did win MVP honors in the MSU Gator Bowl win over Michigan, by an offensive score of 52-14.
This year he has already astounded fans by putting up 645 yards of total offense, an MSU school record, completing 13 of 22 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns. In his last four games he’s put together 995 yards, eight TDs and only two interceptions.
I think he started maturing at the end of last season and it looks like he’ll continue for the remainder of this one.
It is reported that this summer Relf actually watched the film from his final drive against Auburn last year when the Bulldogs failed to convert 10 yards away from field goal range, only to lose by three to the Tigers.
About this year’s game, Relf says that he just put last year behind him to concentrate on this year. Reported in The Dispatch of Starkville, Relf says, “I’m just itching to play, have a good practice today and go down there and execute.”
Auburn either has a lot to worry about, or a lot to prepare for. If they intend to win it, then the latter will be the order of the day.
Head Coach Gene Chizik and especially Defensive Coordinator Ted Roof, should make sure they’re prepared, or it's going to be a very long season for the Tigers.