Last week, the Tigers flipped the script after early-game struggles in their first three games of the season. Against Texas A&M, Auburn was able to score touchdowns on two of its first three possessions and build a lead that the Tigers would carry throughout the game. Offensive creativity was a big factor in the explosive first quarter against the Aggies. In order to find similar success against the Bulldogs, it will be interesting to see if Gus Malzahn attempts to replicate that creativity early on against Mississippi State or if the team elects to establish a more traditional approach early on.
Who’s behind center for the Bulldogs?
Mississippi State senior quarterback Tommy Stevens missed the Bulldogs’ last game against Kentucky due to injury, with true freshman quarterback Garrett Shrader starting in his place. Auburn entered the week unsure which will be behind center for the Bulldogs in Jordan-Hare Stadium. So far this season, Stevens has thrown for 441 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions on a 65.5-percent percentage, while Shrader has thrown for 302 yards and an interception while completing 62.2-percent of his passes. Both have shown their ability to run with the ball at times. Maximizing potential in every phase, including punt team: Auburn’s Aussie punter Arryn Siposs had to adjust earlier this season, when the Tigers were struggling on punt coverage in the team’s first two games. The Tigers gave up big returns against Oregon and Tulane, and a total of 179 return yards in those two games, with punting and punt coverage out of sync, and with Siposs’s booming leg outkicking his coverage at times. Starting in the Kent State game, Siposs compromised distance in favor of more height on his punts, which helped the coverage team out, and in the team’s games against Kent State and the Texas A&M, Auburn allowed zero punt return yards. Now, Auburn’s had time to tinker, and speedster Anthony Schwartz is nearing full health and back in the fold as a gunner on special teams. If Auburn dares, the Tigers can cut down on those compromises and start trying to maximize its potential on punt coverage. In SEC play, Auburn will need every phase of the game helping the team as much as possible.
Auburn’s run defense takes on Kylin Hill
The Auburn defense has done an outstanding job stopping opposing rushing attacks this season and sits 20th in the nation with only 89.5 rushing yards per game allowed. As impressive as the start has been for Auburn, the Tigers may face their toughest task yet in slowing down Mississippi State junior Kylin Hill, who leads the SEC with 551 yards through four games. Auburn looks to cut into the production of Hill, who has averaged 137.8 yards per game so far this fall.
Winning the turnover margin
Mississippi State’s opportunistic defense has the Bulldogs as one of the best in the SEC when it comes to the turnover margin, as the Bulldogs sit in second at plus-4 courtesy 11 fumbles and interceptions gained. Auburn, meanwhile, has not been able to create many turnovers thus far, and the Tigers’ four turnovers lost has them tied for 12th in the conference with a minus-1 turnover margin. Auburn won the turnover battle 1-0 against Texas A&M last week and turned the Aggies’ lone fumble into seven points, marking the first time Texas A&M gave up a touchdown off a turnover this season.