Auburn and Mississippi State will play on Saturday in a vital conference game. Auburn is coming off a blowout loss to LSU, while the Bulldogs are coming off a 62-13 win over lowly Northwestern State.
Both teams entered the season with aspirations of winning the SEC West, and both have a loss to LSU this season.
The loser of this matchup is likely out of the SEC West title conversation.
Mississippi State (2-1, 0-1 SEC) at Auburn (2-1, 0-1), Saturday 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Weather: It will be a cloudy evening at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The kickoff temperature will be around 71 degrees with 90 percent humidity, but no rain is expected during the game.
Line: Auburn is favored by 4 points, according to VegasInsider.com
Numbers to know:
That’s how many games Sean White, Auburn’s new starting quarterback, has played at the college level.
The redshirt freshman will get his first start on Saturday against Mississippi State in a game Auburn needs to win to avoid its second conference loss of the season.
This a unique situation for White, because he is replacing former starter Jeremy Johnson three games into the season.
There would be pressure on White regardless of the who the Tigers were playing, but it’s even greater now because a second conference loss would likely end Auburn’s chances to win the SEC West.
Expect Mississippi State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz to give White multiple looks on defense to try and confuse the young quarterback. He will likely put pressure on White to see how he copes from the pocket.
Mississippi State leads the SEC in third-down defense, as opponents are converting on just 20.9 percent of third-down attempts. That also ranks them 10th in the country.
Auburn’s defense No. 13 in theSEC on third-down defense, allowing opponents to convert exactly 50 percent of the time.
If Auburn cannot get quarterback Dak Prescott and Mississippi State off the field on third downs it will be difficult for Auburn to win. The Tigers cannot afford to fall behind big early, especially with a quarterback in his first career game.
Auburn has scored less than 20 points just one time under Gus Malzahn, while Mississippi State is allowing opponents to score an average of 16.7 points per game.
The Bulldogs gave up just 21 points a loss to LSU, a team that hung 45 on Auburn, in Week 2.
You have to think Auburn will need at least 20 points to win this game with the way its defense has performed. The Bulldogs are averaging 38.3 points per game in three contests.
Storylines to watch:
How will Sean White react in his first career game?
The book on White is that he has a strong arm and is very accurate as a passer. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said earlier this week that White had practiced well since he was named the starter.
Practice is one thing, but a game is a different challenge.
As we saw with Johnson through three games, a large part of playing the quarterback position is mental. Johnson often looked lost in games.
Malzahn has said all the right things leading up to the game about White’s abilities and confidence, but similar things were said about Johnson before his demotion.
The truth is we won’t know how White reacts until he plays.
How will Auburn defend Dak Prescott?
Prescott has amassed 799 passing yards and five touchdowns on the season with no interceptions. He also has 107 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
When LSU beat Mississippi State in Week 2, the LSU defensive line consistently got in the backfield. LSU held the Bulldogs to 43 yards rushing, while Prescott threw 52 times.
He ended up with 335 yards passing but just one touchdown. He was also sacked three times.
Auburn’s best bet is to take away Mississippi State’s running game. Prescott is an improved passer, but he is more dangerous if he gets going on the ground.
Who wins the battle at the line of scrimmage?
Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp vowed that personnel changes would be made after Auburn’s lopsided defeat to LSU last Saturday. He said that his team was “out-physicaled” in Baton Rouge.
Last week, LSU dominated Auburn up front from the opening snap, and Mississippi State will likely try to do the same.
The Bulldogs have tallied most of their yardage in the passing game this season but Prescott is always a threat to run.
Auburn must get a better push on both sides of the ball, or Mississippi State will be on its way to a second consecutive victory over Auburn.
White may turn out to be a very good quarterback for Auburn, but expecting him to turn Auburn’s offense around in his first career game is too much to ask of the freshman.
The offense has not lived up to its success from previous years, but the larger issue is the team’s defense.Muschamp can make personnel changes, but you don’t fix defenses that have performed this poorly in a week.
Prescott will be able to take advantage of Auburn’s spotty run defense and use that success to set up big plays in the passing game.
White will have promising moments, but it won’t be enough to avoid another loss.
Mississippi State 44 Auburn 20