FWtCT Season Preview: Auburn Game

USA TODAY Sports

Mississippi State's third game of the 2013 season is a match-up with a familiar SEC West foe.

When: Saturday, September 14, 6 p.m.

Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium -- Auburn, Alabama.

TV: ESPN option (ESPN, ESPN2, or ESPNU)

2012 Game: MSU 28 - Auburn 10.

After a total dumpster fire in 2012, Auburn fired Gene Chizik and hired offensive guru Gus Malzahn to turn things around on The Plains. The Tigers' offense was helpless against Mississippi State every team last year, but should be improved under the new system. Malzahn has had a ton of success as an innovative offensive coordinator (Arkansas, Tulsa, and Auburn) with the ability to fill stat pages and school record books. In his first season as a college head coach at Arkansas State in 2012, the Red Wolves went 9-3 (Sun Belt Champions) and finished 23rd in total offense in the NCAA. The "Malzahn Factor" is already in full affect. Despite winning ZERO SEC games in 2012, the Tigers are picked to finish ahead of MSU in the preseason SEC polls.

MSU RUN DEFENSE vs AUBURN RUNNING GAME

This is the key match-up in this game as the strength of Auburn's team is in the backfield. Junior Tre Mason rushed for 1,002 yards last season and they added JUCO All-American Cameron Artis-Payne in the spring. Malzahn would be wise to tailor his offense around these two guys. However, MSU had no problem stuffing Auburn's run game last season (39 carries for 91 yards). Another performance like that and the Bulldogs will probably walk out of Jordan-Hare Stadium victorious, but this offense should be more dynamic and the Bulldogs were mediocre-to-below average (167 ypg) as whole in trying to stop the run last year. MSU's D-Line is loaded with talent, but needs to show that they can be consistently disruptive, especially against what should be an up-tempo offense. Auburn's running game will also be influenced by who starts at quarterback. Nick Marshall, former UGA cornerback, enters from the JUCO ranks where he passed for 3,000+ yards and rushed for 1,000+ yards and a combined 37 touchdowns. Marshall gives Malzahn the dual-threat QB that he covets, but he could go with Kiehl Frazier or Jonathan Wallace as well.

MSU SECONDARY vs AUBURN RECEIVERS

Emory Blake graduated which leaves the Tigers with no established playmaker at wide receiver. That's a good thing for the Bulldogs considering their secondary entering the 2013 season is equally inexperienced. Juniors Trovon Reed and Quan Bray are highly-recruited wideouts who have not lived up to the hype so far in their careers. Despite the loss of Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay, I think the Bulldogs match-up well with the Tigers here. Nickoe Whitley returns to lead the Bulldogs in the secondary, and MSU also brought in JUCO stud Justin Cox to lock down one of the corner spots.

TYLER RUSSELL vs AUBURN PASS DEFENSE

Tyler Russell was pretty much flawless against Auburn last season, completing 20-29 passes for 222 yards and 3 TDs. I hope to see this kind of game again from Russell. Auburn returns most of their secondary including seniors Chris Davis (CB) and Demetruce McNeal (S). Junior strong safety Jermaine Whitehead also returns after recording 86 tackles last year. The big missing piece for the Tigers last year was interceptions. They only recorded two picks for the entire season and allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 65% of their passes. This match-up really comes down to who has improved the most in the off-season. Russell finished the season by throwing nine interceptions in the final six games and really needs to get his confidence back, while Auburn returns a lot of experience that hasn't really produced.

Score Prediction: MSU 31 - Auburn 27

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