September 13, 2008

Bulldogs hoping to repeat '07 feat

Today the Mississippi State Bulldogs (1-1) will face their toughest task of the young 2008 season.
The Bulldogs will open up their Southeastern Conference slate hosting the No. 9 Auburn Tigers (2-0) on ESPN2 at 6 p.m.

"Auburn is a good football team like they usually are," said MSU head coach Sylvester Croom. "They are very talented, very tough, very fast and well coached in all three segments of the game. It will be a great challenge for us but also a great opportunity."

The Bulldogs understand what a win over Auburn can do to boost their season. State also entered their 2007 contest with the Tigers at 1-1, but a 19-14 upset on the plains helped propel the Bulldogs into an eight win season and a bowl game.

What sticks with Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville about the 2007 meeting are the five turnovers his team committed. The Tigers tossed three interceptions and lost two fumbles ultimately spelling disaster.

"To get to Atlanta, you've got to start out well," Tuberville said. "Last year we didn't do it. We didn't play very well. Mississippi State beat us. I'm not taking anything away from them but we just turned the ball over. This week we want to understand who we are playing, where we are playing and we can only control what we do and how we practice."

But this is not the same Auburn team the Bulldogs knocked off last year. The Tigers sport two new coordinators in Tony Franklin on offense and Paul Rhoads on defense.

"It's been more of a challenge for us this year because they have two new coordinators," Croom said. "So we've had to go back and look at what the coordinators did at their previous institutions and also what they have done in the first two games. That can be a little tricky because you don't know necessarily why they did things at the previous institution. It could have been because of the teams they were playing or the personnel they had on those particular teams. So you really have to rely on what they've done in the first two games but at the same time know they haven't delved very deep in their repertoire of things they could do against you."

Auburn will also have a new starting quarterback from a season ago. Brandon Cox was lost due to graduation and Tuberville announced on Sunday that Chris Todd will take over under center for the Tigers ahead of Kodi Burns.

"Each quarterback has his strengths and the players have to be aware of what they can do and what they can't do," Croom said.

Todd is 30-of-39 passing on the year for 318 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

Burns played in relief of Cox as a true freshman last season. Burns racked up 152 total yards and a touchdown against Mississippi State in last years loss.

"Kodi is going to be ready to come in at anytime in special situations and certain situations in the game and also possibly if things aren't going well" Tuberville said.

The Tigers enter today's contest with the No. 5 offense in the SEC averaging 393 yards per game. Auburn averages 226.5 yards on the ground and 166.5 yards through the air in their first two contests. The Tigers have outscored their opponents 61-13 this season and are averaging 30.5 points per game.

Ben Tate leads Auburns rushing attack with 186 yards on 28 attempts and a score this season, a 93 yard average. [db]Rodgeriqus Smith tops the Tigers receiving corps with six catches for 78 yards.

But as talented as Auburn's offense is, it may be their defense that is the strength of their football team. The Tigers have one of the fastest defenses in the country and are only allowing 262.5 total yards per game and only 6.5 points.

"Auburn's defense is what you are used to seeing in an Auburn defense," Croom said. "The speed is the first thing you recognize in their front. Their secondary and their linebackers are fast but their big guys run extremely well. They are a fast defense, one of the fastest we've played in quite some time. Our entire offensive unit is really going to have to play well in order to be able to move the ball with any degree of consistency against this bunch."

The Tigers have only allowed three third down conversions in 32 attempts this season.

Auburn also sports one of the most talented punt returners in the country in Robert Dunn. Dunn is averaging 24.4 yards per return and which includes a 66-yard touchdown return. Croom has figured out a simple way to neutralize Dunn in the return game.

"I'll make no secret about it, we don't intend on him touching the football," Croom said of Dunn. "Right now he is one of the top returners in the country and is very, very explosive. We have a tremendous amount of respect for him."

The Tigers lead the all-time series at 56-23-2 and also the Starkville series at 10-4-1. The last time Auburn visited the Bulldogs they hung a 34-0 shutout on the scoreboard.

The MSU offense is currently ranked No. 7 in the SEC averaging 374.5 yards per contest. The Bulldogs are collecting 221 yards via the air and chewing up 153.5 yards on the ground in their two games this season. However, State is tied for last in the league with Tennessee averaging 24 points per game.

Quarterback Wesley Carroll has completed 27-of-48 of his passes this season for 330 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. Carroll saw action against Auburn last season hitting on just 3-of-10 passing for six yards.

"It was obviously the first game that I had the majority of the snaps," Carroll said. "I obviously got thrown in there. I think I realized more than anything that I realized I didn't have to make every play because there is nothing wrong with hitting a check down or handing the ball off to one of our backs because they can make a lot happen. I was just playing a role in this system because our line played so well last year because we were able to run the ball even though there were eight and nine in the box. That obviously helped me out a lot and hopefully we can work in some pass plays this year and spread out that defense."

State rushed for 172 yards last season against Auburn led by Anthony Dixon's 103 yards on 29 carries and Christian Ducre's 63 yards on 10 totes. Tuberville believes the Bulldogs have one of the best 1-2 punches at tailback in the SEC.

"Everybody likes to have two good ones and they have that," Tuberville said. "They've got physical guys and they've got speed guys. That can make a difference in a change of pace. It's like bringing in a pitcher out of the bullpen. You've got to have somebody come in to give you a little different look and a chance to do different things. It all goes back to running the football and Dixon's been there and done that. He knows how to play and knows how to run the ball. He is very durable and it all starts with him."

Dixon leads the backs with 176 yards on 36 carries this season and two touchdowns. He is averaging 85.5 yards per game.

Mississippi State also has the league's top pass catcher in Brandon McRae. McRae leads the SEC with 12 receptions for 132 yards and two touchdowns in the early season.

"I really don't think that I have made a name for myself yet," McRae said. "We start SEC play this week so we're going to see what happens now. I like a challenge so if defensive coordinators want to scheme for me, that just makes it more of a challenge."

The Bulldogs have the 4th best defense in the SEC surrendering just 208.5 yards per game. MSU allows 221 yards passing, 145 rushing this season and 16 points per game this season.

On the injury front, the Bulldogs are expected to be without tight end Marcus Green as well as kicker/ punter Eric Richards both with hip injuries.

Croom is hoping the fans provide a hostel atmosphere for the Tigers to play in this evening.

"Hopefully we will have a great crowd," Croom said. "If it's anything like we had this past Saturday night I'm sure it will be a very enthusiastic crowd. That will give us some edge as the game proceeds."

It will be the first road test for Auburn, who defeated Louisiana-Monroe and Southern Miss at home.

"We are looking forward to competing on the road in a different environment knowing that we've got to get ourselves ready to play," Tuberville said. "We'll have fans there but not quite as many as you do playing in Jordan-Hare Stadium."

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