Auburn will finally play its first game outside the state of Alabama this season when it visits Mississippi State this week. Gus Malzahn’s squad will try to build upon its 3-2 record while Dan Mullen’s team will attempt to move over the .500 mark.

Here’s a look at how the teams match up Saturday afternoon at Davis Wade Stadium (Noon ET, SEC Network):


QB Sean White vs. Mississippi State pass defense: White has been the SEC’s most accurate passer, completing 68.4 percent of his attempts for 983 yards, 5 touchdowns and 1 interception. When you consider that Auburn passes only 30 percent of the time, White’s numbers aren’t bad, especially from a game management perspective.

White isn’t much of a runner as indicated by his 34 carries for 57 yards and a score. But that’s OK for the quarterback of the SEC’s top rushing team.

Tony Stevens, who leads Auburn in catches (21), receiving yards (344) and touchdown grabs (3), has become White’s favorite target. The rest of the Tigers’ receiving corps is dominated by wideouts named Davis: Kyle (7 receptions, 178 yards, 1 TD), Ryan (17 receptions, 140 yards) and Marcus (13 receptions, 100 yards).

The Bulldogs are just 11th in the SEC against the pass, allowing 245.5 yards per game. Cornerback Jamoral Graham (17 tackles) leads Mississippi State’s secondary with 4 pass breakups while free safety Kivon Coman is its leading tackler with 20.

So this will be a matchup between a quarterback who doesn’t throw very often against a defensive backfield that hasn’t defended the pass very well. Sounds a lot like a wash.

EDGE: Even

RB Kerryon Johnson vs. Mississippi State run defense: Johnson has gotten off to an outstanding start, ranking third in the SEC in rushing yards (517) and rushing yards per game (103.4). He’s also tied for the conference lead with 6 rushing touchdowns.

Despite allowing 110.8 rushing yards per game, the Bulldogs are fourth in the SEC against the run. Mississippi State is also fifth in the conference in rushing yards allowed per attempt at 3.5.

In their 27-14 victory over South Carolina on Sept. 10, the Bulldogs yielded just 34 yards on 31 carries, which isn’t surprising. The Gamecocks are 120th in the FBS, averaging 104.8 rushing yards per game.

What was surprising was Mississippi State’s performance in its 47-35 win over Massachusetts in its last game on Sept. 24. The Minutemen, who are 125th in the FBS with an average of 81.6 rushing yards per game, gashed the Bulldogs for 138 yards on 28 carries.

EDGE: Auburn

WR Tony Stevens vs. Mississippi State pass defense — As the top receiver on a team that passes only 30 percent of the time, Stevens is having a surprisingly productive season. He ranks 13th or better in receptions, yards, yards per catch, touchdowns, receptions per game and yards per game.

Since Auburn’s 19-13 season-opening loss to Clemson in which he had just 1 catch for 16 yards, Stevens has been very consistent. He’s had at least 4 receptions for no less than 58 yards in every game since.

If Mississippi State happens to shut down Stevens, White can still throw to any of the three Davises. Considering the Bulldogs’ struggles against the pass so far this season, it wouldn’t be surprising if Auburn offensive coordinator and new play-caller Rhett Lashlee leaned more on the Tigers’ passing game this week.

EDGE: Auburn


QB Nick Fitzgerald vs. Auburn pass defense: Like White, Fitzgerald has thrown 5 scoring strikes and 1 interception, but he hasn’t been as accurate (60 percent completion rate) or as productive (603 passing yards). He’s also shared snaps this season with Damian Williams, who has completed 25-of-36 passes for 237 yards, 2 TDs and no picks.

Fitzgerald’s legs have been his strength. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound sophomore is eighth in the SEC in rushing yards per game (82.3) and is tied for eighth in yards per attempt (7.0).

Auburn has been outstanding so far against the pass, allowing 202.4 yards per game to rank fourth in the conference. The Tigers, who are last in the SEC with two interceptions, will be looking to force more turnovers.

Despite holding Trevor Knight, arguably an even more dangerous running QB than Fitzgerald, to 42 yards on 12 carries, Auburn still lost, 29-16, at home on Sept. 17. The key for the Tigers is to force him to beat them with his arm.

EDGE: Auburn

RBs Brandon Holloway and Ashton Shumpert vs. Auburn run defense: New quarterback, same offensive approach. Dak Prescott was Mississippi State’s primary rushing threat during his time in Starkville, and Fitzgerald is carrying that torch.

That doesn’t mean Holloway and Shumpert are ineffective. The two are averaging at least 4.7 yards per carry, but Fitzgerald is running the ball more than both, and that probably won’t change this week.

Auburn has been below average against the run, allowing 156 rushing yards per game to rank eighth in the SEC. The Tigers’ run defense has struggled the most in its first two SEC games, yielding 231 rushing yards against Texas A&M and 220 in its 18-13 win over LSU, even though those are two good running squads.

Auburn might be able to contain Holloway and Shumpert, but Fitzgerald adds an element that collectively could be tough to stop.

EDGE: Mississippi State

WR Fred Ross vs. Auburn pass defense: Ross is second in the SEC with 6.3 receptions per game and is tied for third in the conference with 4 receiving TDs. With 18 catches for 258 yards and a score, Donald Gray is a quality complement to Ross.

Cornerbacks Carlton Davis and Joshua Holsey have been solid so far for Auburn. Safeties Tray Matthews and Nick Ruffin along with nickel back Rudy Ford are going to be a tough secondary to beat.

Mississippi State has thrown the ball 46 percent of the time this season. Getting that number beyond 50 percent will be Auburn’s goal and could be a recipe for success.

EDGE: Auburn


Auburn’s Daniel Carlson, a Lou Groza Award finalist last season and arguably the best place-kicker in the country, leads the SEC in made field goals (12) and field goal percentage (92.3). Westin Graves, Carlson’s Mississippi State counterpart, has had a good season, connecting on 80 percent of his kicks.

The Bulldogs’ Logan Cooke is 10th in the SEC with an average of 40.6 yards on 19 punts. Auburn’s Kevin Phillips has compiled a better average (41.5) with four fewer punts.

Holloway is eighth in the conference in kickoff return average (20.6) while Ford is 11th (16.5). Mississippi State has allowed 20.7 yards per kickoff return to rank sixth in the SEC. Auburn is seventh in the same category.

EDGE: Auburn