Game Time: 5 p.m. CT/6 p.m. ET
How to watch online: WatchESPN
Odds: Auburn (-9), 49 (O/U)
Auburn and Mississippi State have played each other in football 90 times. Auburn leads the series 62-26-2. Dan Mullen has a 3-5 record against Auburn. Gus Malzahn has a 2-2 record against State. Last year’s 38-14 Auburn victory in Starkvegas was a little lopsided (more than the score would indicate), but for the most part in recent years, these two teams have played each other closely.
Four games into this season, I don’t know what to make of either team. Mississippi State dominated their first three games (including an impressive win over LSU) before being embarrassingly shut down in Athens against Georgia. Auburn looked impressive in Week 1 against Georgia Southern. Since then they’ve lost a close game at Clemson (who looks like one of the top two teams in the nation), struggled against Mercer (?!) and dominated in an SEC road game against Missouri.
Saturday night’s matchup between the No. 13 Auburn Tigers and the No. 24 Mississippi State Bulldogs could play out several different ways, but here are my two cents.
Auburn offense vs. Mississippi State defense
For the first time this season, Auburn will have the two-headed monster of Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson available to play in the same game. In addition to those two guys, Gus Malzahn has promised to increase Kam Martin’s involvement in the offense, so it looks as if Auburn’s running game is turning the corner. Jarrett Stidham is coming off his best game of the year, so the highly-hyped QB is gaining confidence going into the meat of SEC play.
The O-line looked better last week, but they’ll have their hands full against an aggressive Bulldogs defense led by DT Jeffrey Simmons. Simmons has already accumulated 21 tackles on the year, including 2.5 tackles for loss. If the Tigers’ offensive line can hold up against State, Stidham and company should be able to move the ball.
Auburn defense vs. Mississippi State offense
Mississippi State averaged 48 points per game for the first three games of the season, before scoring just three points last week against Georgia. Auburn is allowing only 11.2 points per game through four games.
Something will have to give here. State QB Nick Fitzgerald reminds me of Clemson’s Kelly Bryant. Fitzgerald averages 72 rushing yards per game, so he is shifty with his feet and can pick up yardage as needed. He doesn’t sling the ball around as naturally as he runs, but expect Dan Mullen to challenge the Auburn secondary early and often on the arm of Fitzgerald.
O-line play must continue to improve against a talented Bulldogs defense. Auburn turned the ball over five times against Mercer and won the game. They can’t expect the same outcome if they turn the ball over five times against State.
Auburn’s defense will be tested by one of the SEC’s best quarterbacks. Fitzgerald loves big plays, so Auburn will have their hands full trying to wrangle him in. What Auburn can’t allow is good coverage in the secondary, strong pressure from the D-line and still a 15-yard gain when Fitzgerald escapes from the pocket.
If history repeats itself, this will be a close game that lasts an entire four quarters. In a nutshell, I don’t think LSU is a good team. That’s when State looked the most impressive, before looking completely inept the following week against a very good Georgia defense. That being said, Auburn also has a very good defense. I think the Tigers will win and I think they’ll cover.
Auburn 41, Mississippi State 31