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Cookin’ Up the Competition: Auburn Edition

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Five questions! Five answers! Auburn Tigers! Week 4! Dawgs are 3-1! Football!

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Well folks, we’re closing in on Week 4 of the college football season and on the schedule this week are the #13 Auburn Tigers. This weekend’s match up will be vital to the rest of MSU’s season after a disappointing loss in Athens last weekend, especially if Dan Mullen still has his sights on an SEC West title. For this week’s Q&A we got with College and Magnolia, our SB Nation sister-site for Auburn, to break down this weekend’s matchup. I returned the favor on their site too, check it out here.

With Mississippi State coming off of a deflating loss at Georgia and Auburn getting their momentum back from a close game with Clemson, how are Tiger fans feeling coming into this weekend's matchup?

COLLEGE & MAGNOLIA: To be honest, I’ve spoken to fans on both sides of the spectrum – we’ve got the ones who believe that we finally hit our offensive stride at Missouri, and that Mississippi State’s at the end of a really brutal stretch (especially with two straight road games), so this should be an easy win. On the other hand, we’ve got the group that thinks Missouri is terrible, our offense hasn’t looked good against anyone with a pulse, and now the Bulldogs will be circling the wagons in a must-win game.

I have a feeling that the majority of us believe that Auburn’s the more talented team, and that if we shut down Nick Fitzgerald from a mobility standpoint, then we shouldn’t have much trouble containing the MSU offense. Our defense has been by far the better side of the ball in 2017, and they really haven’t failed at a test yet.

C&M: Do you feel that Auburn can be a legitimate contender in the SEC West down the stretch, with Georgia and Alabama visiting in the last three weeks of the season?

Honestly, I do feel that we can be contenders for the division, and all it really takes is a look at how Gus Malzahn’s offense has progressed through the two other seasons in which Auburn went to the SEC Championship Game with him on the staff. In 2010, even with Cam Newton, we scored just 17 points in the win against you guys early on, it took a while to get going at home against Clemson and South Carolina, and we really didn’t even find our stride until the Arkansas game in mid-October. Most people don’t remember that. Gus takes a few (or several) games at times to figure out what his offense does best, and this year doesn’t seem to be any different.

In 2013, it was a similar story. The offense became the unstoppable rushing attack eventually, but early on we struggled with Washington State, you guys again, LSU, Ole Miss, and didn’t really put it together against a good team until we beat A&M (again in Mid-October).

Going by that time frame, by the time we figure out just how good this offense is, half the conference slate will be over. One constant that I can see in all three of those seasons is that after the initial early-season gauntlet, there was a warmup game to really fine tune the offense and take a breather. We’re hoping that our matchup with Ole Miss next week is 2017’s warmup game before the offense really hits its stride throughout October.

C&M: Who are some Tigers that Bulldog fans should be concerned about come Saturday night?

It’s been interesting, we’ve had a varied group contributing each time out, so there are a few names that you’ll need to know.

First and foremost is Jarrett Stidham. He struggled in the first couple of games, and even though we scored just 24 against Mercer, he wasn’t the cause – receivers and running backs fumbled like a billion times. He’s got a fantastic arm, wonderful touch, and if he gets time, he should be able to pick apart most defenses in the conference.

At running back, we should see the three-headed monster of Kam Pettway (the bruiser), Kerryon Johnson (the shifty one), and Kam Martin (the speedy one). They all do different things, but they’ve all been equally good this year. We’ll likely run a couple variations on the Wildcat to get the ball directly in either Pettway or Johnson’s hands.

At receiver, the two big guys are Kyle Davis and Nate Craig-Myers. Both had catches last week of more than 50 yards, so those are the deep threats you need to look out for. On the smaller side, Ryan Davis is a good possession receiver who will catch mostly everything thrown his way, then there’s Will Hastings (future small New England white receiver), and Eli Stove, who will likely contribute in the run game as well on sweeps and end-arounds.

On defense, the entire front seven has been outstanding. Marlon Davidson is the main guy at defensive end, and he’ll be active everywhere, stopping the run and getting after the quarterback. Our replacement for Carl Lawson at the “Buck” linebacker spot is Jeff Holland, who’s quick and mean and has gotten pressure on every quarterback we’ve faced this year.

The linebackers are all very experienced, and know how to tackle, and it’s been tough going for the opposition trying to get through Tre’ Williams (who’s a bit dinged up and missed the Missouri game), Deshaun Davis, and Darrell Williams.

C&M: Georgia pretty much laid out the blueprint for shutting down the MSU offense, do you think Auburn has the ability to carry out a defensive game plan to the same effectiveness?

I would say that Auburn’s defense is likely better at this point that Georgia’s defense. We held Clemson to just 14 points at their place, and that was with an offense that put up only 117 yards and yielded 11 sacks. If MSU’s offense is based around the run, I honestly don’t see it being too difficult to shut down on Saturday night. The Tigers right now are 7th in scoring defense in the country, 17th in rushing defense (yards per game), and 10th in passing yards allowed per game. It’s not easy to move the ball on Kevin Steele’s group right now, and they seemed to develop a new swagger in CoMo that they didn’t have before that.

C&M: Auburn is currently sitting at a 9.5 point favorite over the Dawgs on the Plains this weekend, who are you putting your hypothetical money on?

I’d like to think we see a similar game to what Mississippi State endured last week in Athens, but I know that it’ll be closer than that. I don’t think we’ll be able to move the ball like we did on Missouri, but I think you guys will have a really tough time getting the offense rolling as well. I believe we’ll pass to set up the run (we did last week), and so a couple big plays in the first half put us up by 10+ at halftime, and the running game controls the second half and limits possessions/opportunities for a comeback. I think Auburn wins by two touchdowns, partially because MSU is going to be pretty tired from the past couple of weeks and they’ll fade late.