Not to overstate things, but today is kind of a big day for Mississippi State. The first SEC game of the year, as Dan Mullen has said, sets the tone for the season and the match-ups between MSU and Auburn have been entertaining since Mullen took over.
Here’s The Rundown.
The Game: Mississippi State vs. Auburn, 6 p.m. central, ESPN2
The Keys: As much as anything, MSU needs to move the chains today. Controlling the clock and getting the offense in rhythm is of pretty severe importance for the Bulldogs, especially with a defense behind them that has done exceedingly well through two weeks. I don’t imagine MSU would need to score in the 40s, but somewhere around 30 would go a long way.
Defensively, the best thing MSU can do is create turnovers. They didn’t get one against Oklahoma State and Mullen pointed out after the win over Alcorn State how much better their record is when winning the turnover battle. In what seems like it should be a tight game, the team to make mistakes with the ball could likely be the one disappointed at the end of the night.
Matchup to Watch: This one is big, obvious and all-important – MSU’s offensive line vs. Auburn’s defensive line. MSU wants to control the clock? Gotta be able to run it. MSU wants to keep the box from getting stacked? Gotta be able to pass it.
A big part of this is the replacement of Ben Beckwith for injured Justin Malone at right guard. Beckwith nearly won the starting spot last year and is a more-than-capable replacement who got his first start last week against ASU.
For all of the talent at running back, receiver and quarterback MSU has, the offensive line will have the most important task of protecting them tonight.
Underrated Storyline: Auburn’s straight-ahead rush attack. New head coach Gus Malzahn was made famous by his spread offense, but Mullen has said the offense he runs this year isn’t exactly like any he’s run before, starting with the Tigers’ strong stable of running backs. If MSU can stop Auburn’s run game and force them to try and score through the air, they ought to be in a good spot.
Game MVPs: Junior receiver Jameon Lewis, sophomore corner Taveze Calhoun and sophomore kicker Devon Bell.