Sept. 14, 2013
AUBURN, Ala. - In two games, Auburn's football team has shown it can play some defense. It has not given up a touchdown in 18 consecutive possessions against Washington State and Arkansas State. It has shown it can move the ball and score points, which comes as no surprise with Gus Malzahn on the sideline.
But against Mississippi State tonight at Jordan-Hare Stadium, can these Tigers do what they have failed 10 consecutive times to do? Can they do enough on both sides of the ball to win against a Southeastern Conference competition?
Breaking it down:
The running games
Through two games, Auburn's running back trio of Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant have been a powerful force. They have led the way to 598 yards rushing and have scored five touchdowns.
Mississippi State, led by Ashton Shumpert and one-time Auburn commitment LaDarius Perkins, averages 194 yards per game after a 21-3 loss to Oklahoma State and a 51-7 blowout of FCS opponent Alcorn State.
The growth of Auburn's Nick Marshall continues. He was far more efficient against Arkansas State than against Washington State, throwing two touchdown passes and keeping plays alive with his legs.
Mississippi State senior Tyler Russell, considered a potential NFL draft pick, did not play against Alcorn State because of a concussion. He is expected to play against Auburn.
The line of scrimmage
Auburn dominated Arkansas State on both sides. The challenge will increase significantly tonight. With Auburn's defensive tackles in control, the linebackers performed at a high level against Arkansas State. Though the Tigers got just two sacks, they had 21 quarterback hurries. They'll need to get make Russell uncomfortable tonight.
The Melvin Smith connection
Auburn cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith was coaching Mississippi State cornerbacks a year ago. Mississippi State offensive coaches say Smith's knowledge will affect their gameplan.
Senior defensive end Dee Ford and junior star Justin Garrett, expected to be stalwarts on Auburn's defense, have yet to play. Both have practiced all week.
The turnover battle
Turnovers cost the Tigers dearly in last season's 28-10 loss at Mississippi State. They lost the ball five times on three fumbles and an interception. As in most SEC games, the turnover battle will be crucial in this one.
The bottom line
Until there is a breakthrough, the dark cloud of their SEC losing streak will hang over the Tigers' heads. Tonight is their first chance to be rid of it. And that's why this is a very big game.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: