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Bulldogs versus Tigers Take Two

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How can the Bulldogs improve on their disastrous performance last week and walk out of Jordan Hare with a win?

NCAA Football: Louisiana State at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

The Mississippi St. Bulldogs have reached the end of one of the most difficult, if not the most difficult, three game stretches any team will have in 2017. Mississippi State was living in a nightmare last week in Athens, so hopefully this week will go better.

Reasons to worry about Auburn

  • Auburn is basically Georgia in blue jerseys when it comes to their defense. They will use their front 7 to stop the run and get after the quarterback. There aren’t many teams suited to stopping Mississippi State’s running game, but somehow the Bulldogs got two of them in back-to-back weeks.
  • Kamryn Pettway. Yeah, I should probably throw Kerryon Johnson in here as well, but I think we are still suffering from PTSD the number of times Pettway ran over our defense last season.
  • Jarrett Stidham may not be the guy who was hyped as a potential Heisman winner in the offseason, but he’s been very good so far. Stidham has completed nearly 71% of his passes for over 200 yards a game. That’s impressive.

Reasons not to worry about Auburn

  • Auburn has turned the ball over 8 times already on the young season. It hasn't hurt them too much so far in 2017, but if Mississippi State can force a few, they have the personnel to make Auburn pay.
  • The Tigers have allowed 16 sacks this year, 11 of which came against an aggressive talented defensive line when Auburn played Clemson. Mississippi State’s defensive linemen aren’t on the same caliber as Clemson’s, but they’re still pretty good.
  • Until their last two games which were not good teams, Auburn had not done well at all in hitting big plays in the passing games. The first two games, Stidham was 1-10 on passes more than 20 yards for 23 yards. The last two games he was 7-9 for 287 yards. It could be improvement, or it could just be really bad teams. We find out for sure on Saturday.

Mississippi State will lose if...

  • Auburn is able to execute their offense in a similar fashion to Georgia. Georgia had no issues running or passing the football, and it made for a long day for the Maroon and White Bulldogs in Athens.
  • The wide receivers for Mississippi State can’t help Nick Fitzgerald out. If they can’t get separation, they are going to have to make plays in traffic. They did neither last Saturday.
  • Dan Mullen comes out as conservative as he did last week. On the very opening play, instead of trying to be the aggressor and establishing a physical presence with his offensive line, he ran a screen that was doomed before it ever started. I don’t know if he was just trying to get Fitzgerald an easy throw to get him some confidence, or if he actually saw something he thought he could exploit, but it was a precursor of things to come for the Bulldogs all night long.
  • Todd Grantham oversells to stop the run. It happened in the very first play from scrimmage for Georgia and continued to happen all night long, and it made Fromm’s night pretty simple.

Mississippi State will win if...

  • The Bulldogs can win first down. In their lone loss, they were constantly facing 2nd and long which led to 3rd and long. They need to be efficient on first down to sustain drives and move the chains.
  • Nick Fitzgerald can find some room to run. He seems to find his rhythm passing the football once he has had some success running the football. It won’t be easy, but Dan Mullen needs to find a way for Fitzgerald to use his legs, which will help him when Mullen needs Fitzgerald to use his arm.
  • Jeffery Simmons rebounds. Simmons spent the first three games terrorizing the offensive line. We barely heard his name against Georgia. If Simmons isn’t disruptive, then no one else on the defensive line will be.

Prediction

I've been trying to figure out how this game is going to go this weekend, and I don’t really have a clue still. Here is my dilemma.

Yes, Mississippi State looked bad against Georgia. But they looked really good against LSU. Which team is the real one? The answer is probably somewhere in the middle, but I don’t know if it leans to how they played against LSU or if it leans to how they played against Georgia. The results were so starkly different, it makes it difficult to figure out how good or bad this team really is.

Yes, Auburn looked great against Missouri. But it was the first game they looked like the team most thought they would be in the preseason. Is it because Missouri is that bad or because Auburn figured some things out? I don’t know.

Here’s what I think is the best guess will happen. There has been a lot of talk about Mississippi State needing to perform better offensively, but I think the defense is the group that needs to step up. Auburn’s defense is a bad match for the Bulldogs. Getting positive yardage will be difficult the entire game.

But if the defense can keep Auburn contained, Mississippi State can continue to run their offense and try to wear Auburn down in the second half. So will the defense be up to the task?

I, probably foolishly, think they are. Auburn’s offense and offensive line looked terrible against Clemson, the only not awful defense Auburn has played this year. Mississippi State might not have a defensive line like Clemson’s, but they’re a lot closer to Clemson than they are Mercer, Missouri, and Georgia Southern.

The Bulldogs will be able to get pressure and force turnovers, something Auburn has done a decent amount this season. When they do, they’ll use their good field position to get an occasional score and seal it in the fourth quarter. I’ll take the Bulldogs to win 24-20. Man, do I hope my optimism is leading me down the correct path.