Game of the Week: No. 2 Auburn vs. No. 3 Mississippi State
After the craziness of last week in college football, Auburn and Mississippi State are primed to face off in a battle of SEC unbeatens. Each team has shown they are worthy to sit atop the BCS rankings, and this game could end one team’s hopes for reaching the new College Football Playoff.
Last year this game came down to the wire, with Nick Marshall hitting C.J. Uzomah for an 11-yard touchdown with 10 seconds left to lift Auburn to a 24-20 victory. Marshall had his best game of the year, throwing for 339 yards, leading the game winning drive 88 yards down the field, and almost single-handedly led the Tigers to this victory last year. He just might have to do it again to beat this tough 2014 Bulldogs team.
Last year Mississippi State was a different team altogether. The team was leaning on the shoulders of backup quarterback Dak Prescott, who was starting only his second game because of an injury to prior starter Tyler Russell.
This year, Prescott has made a name for himself. Through five games he has already thrown for over 1200 yards and rushed for over 450 yards, and has put himself near the top of the Heisman Trophy polls. A win this weekend could reassure many voters that Prescott is the real deal. He seems to continually be able to copy and paste his stats from the prior week, no matter who the opponent is.
If I am going to write about Prescott, then I must also write of the electrifying play of his counterpart, Nick Marshall. The two quarterbacks have a very similar style, being able to get it done with both their arms and their legs. The one area where Marshall slightly edges out Prescott is his experience. Marshall led this Auburn team to a national championship against the still No. 1 ranked Florida State Seminoles.
Each team has a fierce rushing attack. Auburn’s Cameron Artis-Payne has rushed for 594 yards and Marshall has contributed 392 yards on the ground. Mississippi State’s Josh Robinson has rushed for 592 yards this year, but coming in a very close second is Prescott with an astonishing 455 yards. One of the keys for both teams will be the disruption of the other’s run game. The team that does this more effectively will have the best chance to win.
Who to Watch For:
S Josh Holsey (Auburn) –Mississippi State will be his biggest test since replacing Jermaine Whitehead in the middle of the field. Holsey, to this point, has shown he is up to the task, being named the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Week. However, he has yet to face a quarterback as good as Dak Prescott.
RB Corey Grant (Auburn) – Grant is the backup to Artis-Payne in the backfield. He has only 38 carries but has been productive, rushing for 245 yards and 2 TD’s. Grant is the change of pace guy and can run a 4.2 second 40-yard dash. Watch for him to have a breakout game or have a rush to setup a score for the Tiger offense.
Mississippi State DB’s – The only downfall to date with the Mississippi State defense is their defensive backs’ inability to cover the deep ball. Auburn’s offense, behind the arm of Nick Marshall, has excelled at throwing the ball down the field. Each of the top recievers for Auburn has a long catch of at least 45 yards. The Bulldogs will have to find a way to eliminate the downfield attack of the explosive Auburn offense.
WR Fred Brown (Mississippi State) – Brown has great big play potential with 9 catches for 173 yards, which averages out to slightly over 19 yards per catch. Brown plays on the outside, opposite the Bulldogs number one reciever, De’Runnya Wilson. Some of Brown’s biggest games have come at home, and this week they are playing at Davis Wade Stadium.
By the Numbers:
10 - The amount of seconds left last year when Auburn beat Mississippi State on a pass to the back corner of the endzone that was caught by C.J. Uzomah. This year’s matchup is wildly different from last year’s, but I see this game coming down to the wire again. Certainly the Bulldogs haven’t forgotten what the Tigers did to them last year.
28 – The difference between Auburn and Mississippi State’s recruiting classes. Auburn came into this year with the 9th ranked recruiting class and Mississippi State with the 37th in the nation.
Final Thoughts – Mississippi State has never been ranked this high in the polls before. Are they the real deal or have they found some luck thus far? Will these electrifying rushing offenses be able to keep their production high against these powerful defenses? Will Dak Prescott be able to keep producing the same numbers he has up to this point in the season, and also, will he be able to carry this Bulldogs team to a win and possibly a jump in the BCS? Will defense be the difference maker in this game?
Prediction: Mississippi State 34, Auburn 27
Photo Credit: (AP Photo/Jim Lytle)
Mark Fagnani is a junior majoring broadcast journalism. To contact him, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.