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Mississippi State vs. Auburn Game Preview

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Mississippi State hits the road to face Auburn looking for its first win on the plains since 2007.

Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Where

jordan-hare stadium

When

6:30 p.m.

TV

espn2

Dak Prescott looks to lead his team to victory on the plains for the first time in eight years.

Coming off a 62-13 victory over Northwestern State, Mississippi State enter's Saturday's matchup with a bit more momentum than their counterpart Auburn, who lost 45-21 at LSU last week.

Both teams sit at 0-1 in the conference thanks to losses to LSU.

Auburn was the SEC West favorite in the preseason while MSU was pegged the worst team in the division. A lot has changed in three weeks. And while not every pundit is predicting a loss for the Tigers Saturday, they definitely appear to be the underdog -- something a total of zero people would have said before the season.

Where do they rank?

MSU offense                               Auburn defense

Points per game- 38.3 (32nd)         Points per game- 29.7 (92nd)

Total YPG- 489 (27th)                       Total YPG- 442.7 (101st)

Passing YPG- 314.7 (21st)                 Passing YPG- 172.7 (32nd)

Rushing YPG- 174.3 (77th)               Rushing YPG- 270 (124th)

Auburn Offense                       MSU defense

Points per game- 26.3 (88th)           Points per game- 16.6 (26th)

Total YPG- 329.3 (114th)                 Total YPG- 335.7 (34th)

Passing YPG- 157.7 (113th)               Passing YPG- 164.3 (26th)

Rushing YPG- 171.7 (78th)               Rushing YPG- 171.3 (81st)

Headlines to watch

Brand new QB

Not even in my wildest dreams did I imagine Jeremy Johnson getting benched by the time Auburn played MSU, but that's where we are. The preseason Heisman contender's struggles have given way to redshirt freshman Sean White -- who hasn't taken a snap at the college level. White won Trent Dilfer's Elite 11 QB competition in 2013 and was named MVP at the Under Armour All American Game. Dilfer told AL.com this week that White "is a give me the ball and kick your ass guy." Even though White is as inexperienced as they come, I think the switch actually improves Auburn's chances of winning. Quarterback is only one of several areas of concern for them, but Johnson only made matters worse by turning the ball over every single game.

Auburn's offense has a problem it hasn't had in a while -- a lack of playmakers. Wide receiver Duke Williams looks like he's regressed since last season. He only has 81 yards through three games. State needs to shut down Williams and not let this be the game that gets him going again. If they can do that, the young Tiger QB may be in trouble.

Run Game

MSU and Auburn rank near the top of the league rushing the football year in and year out. It's always been their bread and butter, but this year something is off. Whether it be struggles on the offensive line, inconsistent starters or a combination of both, these offenses haven't looked like they have in year's past. You know Dan Mullen and Gus Malzahn don't want to throw the ball 50 times, so look for an emphasis on establishing the run early in the game.

Ashton Shumpert will get the start for the Dogs, but I expect Dontavian Lee to see an increased role in the offense starting Saturday. Peyton Barber has performed better than any back for the Tigers, averaging over 5 yards per carry. He'll have the ball in his hands often until Sean White settles in behind center.

Late-game dramatics

2011 and 2013 trips to Auburn did not end well for MSU. Chris Relf was stuffed two inches shy of the goal line as time expired in 2011, and a touchdown pass with less than 30 seconds to go clinched another Auburn victory two years ago. MSU looked like the better team for the majority of those games but couldn't finish the job in the fourth quarter. Will we see another thriller that comes down to the wire? For the sake of hearts not exploding, let's hope not. Mullen needs to keep his foot on the gas and put this game away by the start of the fourth quarter. Playing Auburn down to the wire on their own field is just too much of a risk, as we all well know.

Third Downs

One of the most overlooked statistics that usually is a big factor in determining who wins a game is third down conversion rate. Manny Diaz's defense has been pretty darn good getting off the field on third down. They lead the SEC in that category, only allowing opponents to convert 21 percent of the time. Auburn, on the other hand, ranks next to last in that category allowing opponents to convert 50 percent of the time.

As long as MSU can run the ball effectively and stay in third and manageable situations, they should be able to have a big day offensively. Auburn's defense isn't the same with stud defensive end Carl Lawson out with another injury. But the offensive line will still have its hands full with big Montravius Adams on the inside.

Put up or shut up

The loser Saturday can all but hang up the season -- at least when it comes to competing for the division. An 0-2 SEC start is difficult to overcome, and that's exactly where the loser will be sitting. The winner will still have some work to do but will have some momentum and more importantly a 3-1 overall record. The stakes aren't as high as when #2 Auburn visited Starkville to take on #3 MSU last year, but the game is a big one nonetheless. The loser is eliminated from the SEC West race, and the winner will still have some life.

Game plan for victory

Mississippi State: Hold nothing back on defense and blitz the heck out of Sean White. Make him prove he can read defenses and deliver accurate balls with pressure in his face. Play press coverage on Duke Williams and Ricardo Louis all game and don't allow any quick throws. Win the battle up front and don't allow Auburn to get any sort of a run game going. On offense, take some shots down field to loosen up the defense. Will Muschamp loves to play a lot of man coverage, which should give De'Runnya Wilson plenty of chances to make plays. Most importantly, impose your will up front and run the ball on an Auburn front seven that's been one of the worst in the country.

Auburn: Don't let Dak Prescott beat you with his legs and make him stay in the pocket. Watch the tape of what LSU did against MSU and see how different blitzes confused MSU's offensive line. Give more effort on defense. The effort against LSU last week was pathetic at times. On the other side of the ball, get your young QB some easy throws until he settles into a rhythm. Run the ball often to set up play action against an MSU secondary that still has a lot to prove.

Prediction: MSU's rushing attack finds some life as big Dontavian Lee steps up and has a productive game. Dak Prescott throws for 325 yards as he finds De'Runnya Wilson time and time again. Sean White surprises a lot of people and punishes the MSU secondary at times with his accuracy. But his offensive line struggles to open running lanes, and they can't put up enough points in the end to win a back-and-forth game.

MSU- 37 Auburn- 29