Mississippi State (1-1) at Auburn (2-0)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 14, 7 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Jordan-Hare Stadium (87,451) -- Auburn, Alabama. Television: ESPN2. Home Record: MSU 1-0, Auburn 2-0. Away Record: MSU 0-1, Auburn 0-0. Neutral Record: MSU 0-0, Auburn 0-0. Conference Record: MSU 0-0, Auburn 0-0. Series Record: Auburn leads, 60-24.
GAME NOTES: The Auburn Tigers will conclude their season-opening, three-game homestand on Saturday evening, as they open up SEC action against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Mississippi State started the 2013 campaign with a difficult neutral-field matchup against nationally-ranked Oklahoma State on Aug. 31, falling 21-3, but was able to bounce back with a vengeance last weekend with a 51-7 blowout of Alcorn State. Following this matchup, the Bulldogs will enjoy four straight games at home, not having to venture away from Starkville again until a Nov. 2 date with South Carolina.
The Gus Malzahn era of Auburn football has gotten off to a flying start, and the team's two wins are just one off of last season's total. After taking down Washington State in the opener (31-24), the Tigers hosted Malzahn's former team last week and easily dismissed reigning Sun Belt Conference champion Arkansas State, 38-9.
Auburn holds a comfortable 60-24 lead over Mississippi State in the all-time series, although the Bulldogs came out victorious in last year's encounter, 28-10.
The Bulldogs' lackluster effort in their season opener has caused their offensive statistics to suffer a bit (27.0 ppg, 444.5 ypg), but they exploded in the recent win over Alcorn State to the tune of 556 yards.
Amazingly enough, Mississippi State accomplished its offensive feats last week without the services of quarterback Tyler Russell (concussion) and running back LaDarius Perkins (ankle), although both are listed as probable for this contest.
Dak Prescott (12-of-19, 174 yards, two TDs) and Damian Williams (8-of-13, 105 yards) filled in admirably in Russell's absence. Even though Russell struggled against Oklahoma State prior to his concussion (10-of-16, 133 yards, INT), there's no competition for his job as long as he is healthy.
Ashton Shumpert filled Perkins' shoes well versus Alcorn State, accounting for 98 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries. Nick Griffin (13 carries, 53 yards, TD) also made the most of his opportunities. The return of Perkins, who rushed for 1,016 yards in 2012, will give the Bulldogs an impressive stable of backs upon which to rely.
Fifteen different receivers have caught a pass through two games, with Jameon Lewis leading the way in both receptions (seven) and yards (90).
Mississippi State's defense has been consistently strong, yielding just 14.0 ppg on less than 300 yards per contest, although one of the most ball-hawking units in the country a year ago has forced a modest three turnovers through two games.
Deontae Skinner has a team-high 10 tackles and has recorded the squad's lone interception. Despite forcing plenty of pressure in the backfield (16.0 TFL), the Bulldogs have just one sack (Curtis Virges).
After a 2012 season that saw them rank near the bottom of the SEC in most offensive categories, the Tigers offense has been outstanding under the direction of Malzahn through two games, putting up 34.5 ppg and 431.0 ypg.
The primary reason for Auburn's early-season success has been the efficiency of the rushing attack, which averages 298.0 ypg (15th in the FBS). Corey Grant leads the way with 186 yards and two touchdowns on just 16 carries (11.6 ypc). Cameron Artis-Payne crossed the century mark in the win over Arkansas State to give him 154 yards and a TD on the season.
Tre Mason is arguably the team's most dangerous playmaker. Not only does he have 172 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 29 carries, but he has also returned a kickoff 100 yards for a score.
With the success of the ground game, new starting quarterback Nick Marshall has not been asked to do much, completing 20-of-36 passes for 246 yards, but he has thrown two touchdowns and has yet to turn the ball over.
Sammie Coates is a big play waiting to happen at receiver, turning his four receptions into 112 yards (28.0 ypc), including a 68-yard touchdown.
The Tigers defense gave up plenty of yards to Arkansas State last week (422), but the unit came up with key stops in the red zone and held the Red Wolves without a touchdown.
The defense yields just 16.5 ppg and is led by Chris Davis (13 tackles, 2.5 TFL, five passes defended), Robenson Therezie (11 tackles, two INTs), LaDarius Owens (10 tackles, sack), Cassanova McKinzy (10 tackles) and Joshua Holsey (nine tackles, INT).
Auburn was one of the worst teams in the SEC a year ago, but it seems as though it is working its way back to relevancy under Malzahn. MSU is no pushover, having earned a bowl bid in three straight seasons, and the return of Russell and Perkins to the lineup will be a big boost, but the Tigers' rushing attack will be the difference in this one.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Auburn 24, Mississippi State 23
09/11 10:38:23 ET