Mississippi State football: A preview and a strange observation
Mississippi State will look to achieve bowl eligibility at 11 a.m. CT Saturday against No. 17 Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Both teams will look to rebound after draining and disappointing losses.
The Bulldogs missed their 3rd field goal of the game in the waning seconds against Arkansas, which would have sent the game into overtime after an impressive drive by quarterback Will Rogers II.
The Tigers went into their 2nd jaw-dropping road atmosphere of the season in College Station, Texas, and were completely smothered by the Texas A&M defense.
The Bulldogs sit at 5-4 following their only game of the season in which they were ranked. At 3-3 in conference play, Mississippi State is in 5th place in the SEC West, ahead of Arkansas and LSU and just a half-game behind Auburn and Ole Miss.
The Tigers have been one of a handful of teams in the SEC West that appear to be overachieving compared to preseason expectations.
The Tigers are favored by 6 points and projected to win 28-22 by oddsmakers. That number is odd to me simply because on paper, the Tigers and Bulldogs match up well. Both have good to great quarterback play, excellent defensive backs and a tough downhill defensive front.
Other than the difference in offensive schemes, these teams actually remind me quite a bit of one another.
Let’s preview this matchup.
Auburn offense vs. Mississippi State defense
This matchup intrigues me the most for 2 reasons. First, you never really know which Auburn offense will show up. The Tigers looked smart, efficient and aggressive against Ole Miss, Arkansas and Penn State. However, they looked confused and lackluster against A&M and LSU.
Second, the Bulldogs are the most underrated defensive unit in college football. I will continue to say it.
They can stop the run with light boxes, they can cover outside receivers and they can rush the passer. Even against Alabama, a game in which the Bulldogs gave up massive big plays, they played well enough in the early quarters.
Auburn gains about 430 yards per game, which is in the top third in FBS and more than 100 yards more per contest than the Bulldogs allow.
The true test for the Tigers will be on the ground. They rush for more than 180 yards per game, while the Bulldogs concede just more than 100, making them the 15th-best rush defense in the country. Keep in mind that they’ve put those numbers up against (in my opinion) about 3 NFL-quality running backs and about 6 NFL-caliber offensive linemen.
Bulldogs offense vs. Tigers defense
On paper, the Bulldogs have one of the best passing attacks in the country. Rogers is completing more than 75 percent of his attempts and racking up more than 375 yards per game, 2nd best in the country.
Meanwhile, the Tigers allow about 225 passing yards per game, which is middle of the pack.
This statistical comparison is meaningless to me. For one thing, the Bulldogs are an air raid offense, so those numbers come from volume. Second, the Tigers, as they always do, have one of the best secondaries in college football.
Meanwhile, the Mississippi State ground game is probably the least potent in college football. It ranks 130th — dead last — with just 56 rushing yards per game. That can be explained by the low number of attempts. However, the Bulldogs also average just 2.6 yards per carry, ranking them 127th.
For weeks, I have been writing about how the Bulldogs must become more efficient in the ground game. In some weeks, they have. However, this week I am saying, Just do what you need to do.
Prediction and overview
I don’t love this game for the Bulldogs. When teams seemingly match up well with one another, it seems to lead to more lopsided results than it does good games. That’s just an observation of mine from watching maybe too much football (if that’s a thing).
The teams both have violent and fast defenses and good quarterback play. They’re both well-coached. They both have great trench play. But I like the Tigers in this game by more than a touchdown.
The reason is simple and stupid, but I’m serious: The Bulldogs only play their best football after 6 p.m.
I don’t usually care about that kind of thing when I wager on NFL games, because those are professional grown men. But after watching Mississippi State’s big wins against Kentucky and N.C. State and a well-played game against Arkansas, and comparing those to the messes against Louisiana Tech, LSU and Memphis, I can’t ignore it. Even in their 4 p.m. games, the Bulldogs have played considerably better after halftime.
Maybe this is a coaching thing, maybe the Bulldogs rise to the occasion or maybe I’m crazy. But I’ll take Auburn.