Through five games, Auburn hasn’t left the friendly confines of Jordan-Hare Stadium. That all changes this weekend, when the Tigers travel to Starkville to take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Both teams are coming off a win, Auburn having blown out ULM 58-7 and Mississippi State having downed Massachusetts 47-35. Auburn goes into the week as a slight favorite, but for this 11 am kickoff, they’ll have to play soundly to get their second SEC win.
Life after Dak Prescott has been tough the Dan Mullen and the Bulldogs. Their former All-SEC quarterback left Starkville for Dallas and has been one of the NFL’s biggest surprises through the first four weeks of the season. After a back and forth quarterback rotation to start the season, Mullen has settled on Nick Fitzgerald. The sophomore quarterback is both the team’s leading passer and rusher through five games. Fitzgerald has completed 60 percent of his passes for 603 yards and five touchdowns and carried the ball 47 times for 329 yards. Fitzgerald offers a unique challenge for Auburn’s defense. The unit struggled mightily against another Trevor Knight, another mobile quarterback, in the loss to Texas A&M earlier in the season. Containing Fitzgerald, and stopping him from extending plays will be one of the main keys on Saturday.
Along with Fitzgerald’s running ability, the Tigers will have to contain Brandon Holloway and Ashton Shumpert on the ground. The duo of running backs have struggled to log carries but have played well when given the chance. Holloway has averaged 4.7 yards per carry and Shumpert has averaged 5.5. Auburn’s defense has done a fantastic job against the run so far but will have to keep that up against two talented backs.
Mississippi State’s most talented player is wide receiver Fred Ross. The preseason All-SEC receiver leads the team in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. Auburn’s pass defense has struggled with allowing big plays in the passing game so containing Ross downfield will be essential. The secondary will also be tasked with keeping Donald Gray in check. The junior wide receiver is off to a hot start and will be a big option if Auburn is successful in containing Ross. Auburn’s rotation of cornerbacks is youthful but has improved throughout the season but locking down this duo will be no easy task.
Auburn currently sits at 1-1 in the SEC. This game against Mississippi State is extremely winnable, with a similar matchup against Arkansas after the bye week. Getting momentum going is extremely important when faced with the back end of Auburn’s schedule. The Tigers’ final three SEC games are on the road against Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama. And with Malzahn rumored to be on the hot seat, he needs as many wins as he can get.