In Dan Mullen’s three-plus seasons at Mississippi State, Ole Miss has been his biggest opponent, but Auburn has been his most frustrating one.
And residing in the neighboring state of Alabama, Auburn has plenty in common with SEC West foe MSU.
Just looking at the two teams entering this game, the similarities are many.
Both the Tigers and Bulldogs feature strong, deep and talented defensive lines, though the core of MSU’s lies on the inside at tackle, led by senior Josh Boyd, while Auburn’s top of the line defensive ends Dee Ford and Corey Lemonier highlight their unit.
And each of those front fours will be teeing off against relatively young and green offensive lines. For MSU, three of its five starters began last season on the bench, while one of those (right tackle Charles Siddoway) was in junior college. Add to that equation Tobias Smith missing most of last year with a knee injury, and left guard Gabe Jackson – an All-SEC performer – is a junior yet the most veteran of the bunch.
However, Auburn coach Gene Chizik said not to be fooled by the youth, calling MSU’s line a strong one.
As for the Tiger version, Auburn has similar inexperience, particularly with the breaking-in of two new freshman tackles, plus a pair of sophomores at center and right guard.
What more, you ask? Plenty more, I say.
Let’s look at the quarterbacks. Neither is similar in style to the other, as Tyler Russell is a junior pocket passer for MSU and Kiehl Frazier is a sophomore dual-threat for Auburn.
Both, however, are at similar career positions. Each was highly-recruited in high school, and both were celebrated when they inked their names on National Signing Day. Russell and Frazier had their moments in 2011, though neither was able to claim the starting job as their own.
Entering 2012, Russell and Frazier were finally at the top of the depth chart, the starters and leaders for their teams. Early on, this is the biggest game of their relatively-short, yet much-hyped careers.
Staying in the backfield, the similarities continue with running backs LaDarius Perkins (MSU) and Onterio McCalebb (Auburn). Both spent the early portions of their career as complimentary backs, being featured in the passing and return game. Now, with those in front of them gone, each is taking on a more prominent role. Auburn’s backfield is likely more of a timeshare than MSU’s, and Perkins (5’10”, 192 pounds) seems to be a bit more able as an every-down back than McCalebb (5’11”, 173 pounds). However, the two certainly have a similar skill-set.
Moving to the passing game, Russell and Frazier both have reliable, veteran, talented security blankets in senior tight ends Marcus Green and Philip Lutzenkirchen, both of whom fit the mold of modern day tight ends who specialize in catching the ball just as much, if not more-so, than blocking. Green and Lutzenkirchen are big targets for their quarterbacks both in the endzone and in the middle of the field, reliable chain-movers who must be accounted for.
After all of that, we still haven’t even discussed the close games MSU and Auburn have had over the last several years, the chess matches Mullen and Chizik have played against each other. Last year’s heartbreaker decided by mere inches and the three-point game in 2010 that almost derailed Auburn’s National Title hopes before they even began have been entertaining and tense games between two teams jockeying for position in the SEC West.
Heck, we didn’t even mention Cam Newton, Mullen’s former pupil at Florida.
The similarities and ties run deep for the Tigers and Bulldogs. To this point, Auburn has come out on top. But when the music stops and the ball is kicked on Saturday morning, the score will be 0-0 and it’s anyone’s game.