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Mississippi State-Auburn Five Factors Review

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Is this encouraging for Auburn or not?

John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

I didn't catch this game on Saturday, and my only option for trying to see it was the replay on WatchESPN. Because my Internet connection is at near-dial up speeds during the daylight hours, what little I could see came from the optimized-for-Windows 95 stream. It's too bad, because I really would've like to see just how different things were with Sean White in charge for the Tigers.

This review is based on the Five Factors of winning. It doesn't include MSU's two end-of-half drives that ran out the clock, and sacks count as pass plays.

Explosiveness

Team Runs 10+ Pct. Passes 20+ Pct. Explosive Pct.
Mississippi State 2 11.8% 2 4.9% 6.9%
Auburn 10 21.7% 1 3.1% 14.1%

This was easily the best job of getting big plays the Auburn rushing attack has done all year. White only connected on one explosive pass, although he did have another of 19 yards. His arm strength appears to be modest, so I think that probably accounts for a bit of that.

Efficiency

Team Run SR Pass SR Overall SR Red Zone SR
Mississippi State 35.3% 53.7% 48.3% 33.3%
Auburn 56.5% 37.5% 48.7% 26.7%

Auburn's defense probably had its best day at defending the run yet, but MSU made up for it by being efficient in the pass game. The Tigers were the opposite, moving it well on the ground but not through the air.

The red zone figures are very different under the hood. The Bulldogs ran only three plays at the 20 or closer, while Auburn ran 15. Naturally, State was the team that got the game's sole red zone TD.

Team 1Q SR 2Q SR 3Q SR 4Q SR
Mississippi State 66.7% 54.5% 29.4% 46.7%
Auburn 35.3% 63.2% 57.9% 39.1%

A slow start for a freshman quarterback is to be expected, and the AU defense came out with a nice improvement after the half.

Efficiency by Player

Player Comp. Pct. Pass Eff. Yards/Att Sacks Pass SR
Dak Prescott 70.7% 142.1 6.6 0 53.7%
Sean White 71.4% 120.7 6.7 4 37.5%

Prescott did fine, given that it was all on his right shoulder. Seriously: MSU only attempted one run in the second quarter and six total in the first half.

White had an uneven debut. The interception he threw to close the Tigers' first drive was A) three plays after a floater he tossed for that 22-yard gain should've been picked off by Will Redmond, and B) a throw across his body into traffic, which basically never works out. Even if he didn't see Redmond, who got that interception, his target was still double covered. White also took four sacks, three of which lost nine yards or more. That's bad.

Player Targets Catches Yards Yards/Target SR
Fred Ross 11 7 66 6.0 54.5%
De'Runnya Wilson 9 5 43 4.8 55.6%
Gus Walley 6 5 22 3.7 33.3%
Fred Brown 5 4 58 11.6 80.0%
Ashton Shumpert 3 2 23 7.7 33.3%
Malik Dear 3 3 21 7.0 100.0%
Gabe Myles 2 2 37 18.5 50.0%
Brandon Holloway 1 1 0 0.0 0.0%
Donald Gray 1 0 0 0.0 0.0%

Prescott did a nice job of distributing the ball around to his many targets.

Player Targets Catches Yards Yards/Target SR
Duke Williams 5 4 49 9.8 60.0%
Melvin Ray 4 3 24 6.0 50.0%
Kerryon Johnson 3 3 32 10.7 66.7%
Marcus Davis 3 1 22 7.3 33.3%
Peyton Barber 3 2 19 6.3 33.3%
Roc Thomas 3 3 12 4.0 33.3%
Ricardo Louis 2 2 14 7.0 100.0%
Jason Smith 2 1 6 3.0 0.0%
Chandler Cox 1 1 10 10.0 0.0%
Stanton Truitt 1 0 0 0.0 0.0%

This was one of Williams's better games, and Johnson was a nice find off the bench.

Player Carries YPC Rushing SR
Dak Prescott 6 2.3 16.7%
Brandon Holloway 5 8.4 100.0%
Ashton Shumpert 4 0.3 0.0%
Gabe Myles 2 0.5 0.0%

Every time I look at MSU games, I wonder why Holloway doesn't get more touches.

Player Carries YPC Rushing SR
Peyton Barber 27 5.1 55.6%
Sean White 7 9.4 57.1%
Kerryon Johnson 5 5.6 80.0%
Roc Thomas 3 6.0 66.7%
Stanton Truitt 2 2.5 50.0%
Marcus Davis 1 -8.0 0.0%

Barber is still a beast, and White wasn't terrible at scrambling. Johnson was fine running too, which is why I expect to see him appear some more.

Field Position

Team Avg. Starting Position Plays in Opp. Territory Pct. Of Total
Mississippi State Own 28 22 37.9%
Auburn Own 23 33 42.3%

The Tigers had a slight edge here, and they did a lot of living in Bulldog territory. They just couldn't find points.

Finishing Drives

Here was Auburn's big failing. A trip inside the 40 is a drive with a first down at the 40 or closer or a scoring play from beyond 40, and a red zone trip is a drive with a first down at the 20 or closer.

Team Drives Trips Inside 40 Points Red Zone Trips Points
Mississippi State 9 3 17 1 7
Auburn 10 5 9 4 6

MSU didn't get many scoring opportunities, but it got points when it did.

The Tigers had more scoring opportunities, but they just couldn't cash in. White tossed a goal line interception. A 3rd-and-1 from the one yard line turned into disaster thanks to a fumble, and it led to a field goal miss. A 3rd-and-3 from the nine became a field goal attempt. A 3rd-and-goal from the seven also became a field goal attempt. Lost yardage plays on first and second down turned a 1st-and-10 from the MSU 44 into a punt. On the Tigers' final drive, 1st-and-10 at the MSU 41 became a long field goal after White took a 12-yard sack on second down.

The Tigers blew opportunity after opportunity. The red zone ones are particularly galling given how effective Auburn's run game generally was through the contest.

Turnovers

White tossed a pick, while State's Gus Walley fumbled one away after a reception. It was a tie, 1-1.

Overall

When I first looked at the stats you see above, I thought this could be a secretly encouraging game despite losing and not scoring a touchdown. The run numbers finally look like what we all expect from a Gus Malzahn offense, White's line (sacks aside) was an improvement over Jeremy Johnson, and the defense got it together in run defense.

Then I watched pieces of the game. I saw the entire first drive, which reminded me that Mississippi State is not so great at tackling this year. Even watching Auburn's own highlight package, there were times when I thought "oh man, Mississippi State totally blew that tackle" and "that was a tackle for loss only because the ball carrier stumbled before contact". Barber had a run from the ten to the two where AU's offensive line demolished MSU's front seven and Barber ran over a guy. Conspicuously absent was the short touchdown plunge afterwards, because it never happened.

So I don't know what to take away from this game for Auburn's sake. White played better than Jeremy Johnson has been playing, but that's sadly a low bar. The run game got going, but it got some amount of help from a Mississippi State defense that stank it up in run defense against LSU too.

Mississippi State is doing all right with what it has, but it's as clear as ever that the team is sunk if Prescott goes down to injury. The Bulldogs are having a tough time running the ball, and so going to someone at QB without the leadership and experience Prescott has would be a big step down. I'd feel a lot better about its defense if it didn't give up a bunch of big plays on the ground, but its pass defense has been largely excellent.

Getting San José State this week is great for Auburn because it'll have a chance to find a real rhythm with White at quarterback without having to deal with a great passing defense. Mississippi State, meanwhile will go on the road to College Station and put that pass defense to the test. If the Bulldogs can tackle better, they'll have a real chance to pull off the upset.