Pop quiz: The following quotes came from either Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen or Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn. Who said each and which team are they referring to?
“They have a dynamic offense. Their quarterback is one of the better quarterbacks in football,” this head coach said. “His accuracy has been extremely impressive this year, especially on play-action. Their offensive line is an experienced group. Their wide receivers are big and long and they have made some one-on-one plays. Their defense is one of the better defenses that we play.”
Not sure? Try this one.
“They have one of the top defenses in the conference,” said one of the head coaches. “You look at them, they have a lot of talented players. They roll a lot of guys through on the defensive line. They’ve got big, physical linebackers. They have great athleticism in the secondary to cover you.”
No? One more try then.
“They’ve got big-play wide receivers on the outside,” this head coach said. “Obviously, they’re a great running team with a big, physical offensive line and a bunch of different backs they’ll throw at you including their main guy who is the third-leading rusher in the SEC. Really another a huge challenge for us this week.”
If you actually guessed (I’m assuming many did not) here are the answers. The first quote comes from Malzahn talking about Dak Prescott and MSU. The second and third quotes are both from Mullen talking about Auburn.
One is ranked No. 2, the other is No. 3. One has a dual-threat quarterback who is considered a Heisman contender. So does the other. Both head coaches run their offense. Each offense is a run-based spread. And the running backs in both are having very good years. The Tigers and Bulldogs both boast game-changing wide receivers. Each play-caller loves to make you bite on the play-action while also confusing you with the run-pass option.
One of the teams rotates about 10 guys on the defensive line. The other one does too. Each has a talented group of linebackers and both squads have secondaries who have been shaky at times but are loaded with talent. The defensive coordinators are considered two of the best around.
Drama can’t really be predicted, but it seems fair to say that, based on the matchup, this ought to be one of the best games of the year as the SEC season reaches its midway point.
“The last three times that I have personally coached against them,” Malzahn said, “it went down to the last play. Last season was no different; it went down to the very end.”
“Should be a pretty exciting game,” Mullen said. “Should be fun and should be a great atmosphere.”
And there lies the only obvious difference in this game: one team (MSU) is at home. The other (Auburn) is on the road. Davis Wade Stadium, newly-expanded, is completely sold out. Saturday, no matter the outcome, will absolutely be the biggest crowd in MSU history. CBS picked the game No. 1, even if the teams are technically two and three, while ESPN’s College GameDay decided to stay in the state and go to Starkville for the big SEC West showdown.
So, what of the numbers and big match-ups?
Auburn’s Cameron Artis-Payne is third in the conference with 596 rushing yards. MSU’s Josh Robinson is fourth with 594. However, Robinson has done it on 79 carries to Artis-Payne’s 110, an average of 7.5 yards per carry for the Bulldog and 5.4 for the Tiger. Robinson does lead in touchdowns, six-to-five.
Both teams are averaging 42 points per game (technically 42.6 for MSU, fourth in the SEC). As a team, each is averaging 5.6 yards per carry, the Bulldogs averaging 272 rushing yards per game and the Tigers sitting at 268.
The teams are first (MSU) and second (Auburn) in pass efficiency in the league. Both the quarterbacks are top 10 in total offense in the conference. Prescott, second, has 337.4 yards per game (a total of 1,687 yards) while Marshall, sixth, is averaging 269.5 yards per outing for a total of 1,078 yards, though he’s played in one fewer game than Prescott.
These teams have the second (MSU) and third (Auburn) best rushing defenses in the league. The big difference defensively comes in the secondary where the Tigers are sixth in passing yards allowed and the Bulldogs are last. Though, as Mullen has pointed out, a few big plays in non-conference games (as well as having to face Texas A&M’s high-flying passing game) have kept the statistics from painting a completely accurate picture.
So who wins? What’s the difference in this game? Which hair do you split?
In a game with two quarterbacks who keep hearing that H-word, it would seem that one of them may have an opportunity to win the game for his team in one of those H-word Moments.
“We have our work cut out for us,” one of the two coaches said.
Does it matter which?