The Tigers must put more pressure on Tyler Russell this year.
War Eagle, everybody! It’s time now for another Auburn opponent preview. In week three, on September 14th, the Mississippi State Bulldogs visit Auburn at Jordan Hare Stadium. SEC action begins for the Tigers, and it’s an important game for both teams. The winner will be off and running in the league, and the loser will face questions of whether they can compete in a very tough SEC Western Division this season.
Last season was a tale of two different teams for the Bulldogs. They started the season with seven straight wins, and headed to Tuscaloosa to try and stake a claim to being in the upper echelon of the league. Mississippi State then lost five of their last six games, most of them by blowout scores. This year’s team returns 12 starters on the offense and defense, but there are some holes to fill where stars departed.
If last year’s team was covered up early by a soft schedule, this year’s edition will have no such worries. The Bulldogs open in Houston against Oklahoma State, and will find out quickly if their reloading efforts have been enough. The Bulldogs then tune up the next week with Alcorn State, before heading to Auburn. This year’s squad could be better than last year’s, and still leave Auburn with a 1-2 record. And it doesn’t get much easier from there. The Bulldogs do follow the Tigers with four straight home games, against Troy, LSU, Bowling Green, and Kentucky. Then come road trips to South Carolina and Texas A&M. The Bulldogs finish up with Alabama at home, Arkansas in Little Rock, and Ole Miss at home. The Bulldogs will likely be favored only against Kentucky in the SEC, and possibly Arkansas and Ole Miss. Oklahoma State will be very tough, and Troy has had good success against MSU in the past. While head coach Dan Mullen talks of taking the next step and becoming an elite SEC team, reality is that the Bulldogs will need a few upsets to return to a bowl game this season.
Mississippi State’s offense is what has given them a chance to win most games since Dan Mullen arrived in Starkville 5 years ago. This year’s edition will have a veteran offensive line, and an experienced senior quarterback in Tyler Russell. However, the Bulldogs must break in a new receiver corps, as they lost veterans Chad Bumphis, Arceto Clark and Chris Smith. Running back LaDarius Perkins is a speedy home-run-hitting back, and he’ll be joined by bulked-up sophomore Josh Robinson.
There are more questions on the defensive side of the ball, where the Bulldogs lost both starting tackles, most of the secondary, and top tackling linebacker Cameron Lawrence. That defense gave up over 30 points against Tennessee, Alabama, Texas A&M, LSU, Ole Miss and Northwestern last season. This produced some assistant coach shuffling, and Mullen brought in Geoff Collins to run the defense. While most folks point towards shoring up the secondary as the top priority, I think producing a stout front seven rotation is more important. The Bulldogs have talent up front, but it is young, and the Bulldog line tended to wear down late in games down the stretch last season.
The Bulldogs were decent on special teams last season, and expect to be again this season. Punter Baker Swedenburg is one of the better punters in the league, and his high kicks resulted in only 6 TOTAL punt return yards against the Bulldogs last season. Sophomore Jameon Lewis gives the Bulldogs a breakaway threat in the return game. The Bulldogs return sophomore kicker Devon Bell, and they hope he improves on his 14 out of 21 freshman field goal kicking performance.
Unit Matchups, after the jump!