In this edition of Cowbell Collective, 3 of our writers give their opinions on aspects of the Mississippi State vs. Auburn Tigers game this weekend. Read on after the jump for more plus score predictions.
Q1: How strange does it feel to have Mississippi State as a favorite (currently 7 points) going into Jordan-Hare this weekend?
C.G. Mosley: Its hard for me to ever remember a time that the Bulldogs were actually traveling to Jordan-Hare Stadium as the favorite to win the game. I wish there was some way to keep the players from knowing that they're favored to win, but I'm sure that's almost impossible now that the entire nation is aware of how poorly Auburn performed against Utah State. It's my hope that Mullen reminds the team every day that the Auburn Tigers are the defending national champs and that this game will by no means be a cake walk. It seems like the entire first two years of Mullen's tenure were spent trying to build confidence in the team. The confidence is obviously there now and its ironic that now he's probably got to spend the early part of the season pulling the reigns back and reminding the team that an underdog team of Auburn's caliber can and will blow them out if they're not taken seriously.
Tyler Nelson: Eh, kinda, sorta. The Bulldogs are the better team. After winning the championship last year, Auburn lost nearly everybody. Yes, they have brought in consecutive top-ranked recruiting classes, but a lot of the guys don't have game experience. That is something the Bulldogs have. I don't think Mississippi State will be rattled by the atmosphere - this is old-hat for them. Still, it does feel strange to be favored over Auburn (and most other SEC teams for that matter).
OURStateBlog: It's really weird. As a matter of fact, I hate it. Even if it was a 3-4 point spread in our favor, which i think is more accurate, then i would still be nervous. I hate being the favored team especially at someone elses house because then they are extra motivated by the "we get no respect" Rodney Dangerfield factor. Although it is ultimately just a number that doesnt effect the game, it makes me uneasy to see the spread that high in our favor. I would look for it to lower by several points before Saturday.
Q2: Do you think Auburn will be able to handle our power run attack this weekend?
C.G. Mosley: If they play the way they did against Utah State, they don't have a chance in hell at stopping Vick Ballard, Chris Relf, and LaDarius Perkins. Robert Turbin carried the ball for Utah State 22 times against Auburn. He carved out 70 yards and 2 touchdowns along the way. Kerwynn Williams carried the ball 10 times for 69 yards and 1 touchdown. Now, no offense to those two guys, but they aren't exactly an experienced duo when it comes to charging through tiny holes against SEC defenses. Ballard, Perkins, and Relf are very experienced in that regard and will no doubt exploit any and every mistake that the Tigers make defending the run. Having said all that, Coach Gene Chizik will no doubt make them better than they were in week one. I just don't think one week of preparation will be enough. Most of MSU's yards will definitely come on the ground in this game and they'll probably bulldoze their way straight up the middle until Auburn figures out a way to stop it.
Tyler Nelson: In short answer...no. Utah State gutted Auburn for 227 yards so just imagine what Vick Ballard and LaDaurius Perkins can do. Auburn's lack of defense is shocking. I expected a lot more from the Tigers’ defensive coordinator Ted Roof in his second year. Mississippi State’s offensive line should handle the Tiger’s rush. And despite James Carmon’s sputtering at the beginning of the Memphis game, he was a beast in the run game. I also expect a big game from Chris Relf.
OURStateBlog: I think the bottom line is that this is not the same defense that we saw from Auburn in 2010. Nick Fairley handled us last year, and this year he's gone and well that makes me happy. I think we will be successful running the ball against that Auburn front. If Mullen can get the proper run-pass balance executed, I think we will have ample success on Saturday both on the ground and in the air. I'd look for Ballard to have another 100+yd outing and Perkins to break a key 20+ yard play at some point.
Q3: What aspect of our performance from last week needs to improve the most?
C.G. Mosley: Well the most glaring negative aspect of last week's performance was the kick returns. There were at least three mistakes made by redshirt freshman Jameon Lewis on kick returns. The good news? It's an easy fix. Let the experienced players return the kicks this week! Jameon Lewis has incredible speed and he displayed it nicely at the wide receiver position. His day will probably come returning kicks, but this game against Auburn isn't the time to let him learn from his mistakes. A team like Auburn will take advantage of those mistakes and score on them. Obviously, James Carmon had a rocky start early in the game producing a couple of false starts at left tackle. That can be chalked up to first game jitters so he should be much more settled this week. There wasn't anything particularly exciting about the defense, but then again there never was really any reason to be. Chris Wilson kept things simple and I expect to get a much clearer picture on how the defense looks after this week.
Tyler Nelson: I'm going to flip the last question. Do I think Mississippi State will be able to handle Auburn's power run attack this weekend? In short answer...no. Even though Auburn managed 78 yards against the Aggies, Michael Dyer and Orlando McCalebb are arguably the most potent dou in the Southeastern Conference. The Bulldogs were gashed by Memphis and the lack of a linebacking corps was evident. The group seemed out of place at times and a bit slow. The group will be helped tremendously with Fletcher Cox back in the lineup. Cox and Josh Boyd should give Auburn's green interior linemen a schooling in "SEC 101." This will help Brandon Wilson and Co.
OURStateBlog: I think frour defense making big plays is the biggest improvement we need to make. And I guess that's not really an improvement, moreso as it is something that we need this Saturday that we didn't necessarily need last Saturday. Last weekend the defense looked good, but it was against a much maligned Memphis Tiger offense. I think the difference in this Saturday's see-saw affair will be one or two key plays by our defense. If Fletcher Cox plays, I think he and Josh Boyd could be the difference and get us those few key sacks to swing the game in our favor.
C.G. Mosley: Auburn will probably make this game closer than it should be when you factor in the fact that they're at home (I hope I'm wrong on that). However, unless the Bulldogs completely self destruct, there's just no way they'll lose this game. All the parts and pieces are in place and the stars are aligned. The Bulldogs are finally going to get another win against the Tigers. My prediction? 35-27 'Dawgs.
Tyler Nelson: Unlike last year, this one will be a high scoring affair. I’ll say MSU wins 37-27.
OURStateBlog: I think it's a close game throughout, probably a score-for-score match with both defenses being slightly down from last year. I would look for both teams to score in the 30's. I'll say 38-34 State.