Top-5 foes collide in SEC showdown

Starkville, MS ( – SEC Western Division and national
supremacy in on the line in a marquee showdown at Davis Wade Stadium on
Saturday afternoon, as the third-ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs play host
to the second-ranked Auburn Tigers.

Auburn, which started the season ranked No. 6, has done what many have
expected it to do in opening up 5-0, and with losses last weekend by Oregon,
Alabama and Oklahoma, it jumped all the way to No. 2 in the AP Poll. The
Tigers issued a statement victory last week at home against then-nationally-
ranked LSU, coming out on the positive end of a lopsided 41-7 affair.

“The (SEC) Western Division in unbelievable,” Auburn coach Malzahn said.
“Every team in it is a very good team. This year there seems to be even more
at the top. They’re all deserving…We have a tough one this week.”

“On the road, in our league, it’s going to be loud,” he continued.
“Communication will be a big factor.”

Meanwhile, very few predicted Mississippi State, unranked at the start of the
campaign, to be in this position midway through the season. After registering
three wins in its soft non-conference schedule, the Bulldogs made a splash on
the national radar in recent weeks by opening up 2-0 in the SEC with wins over
nationally-ranked foes LSU (34-29) and Texas A&M (48-31), allowing them to
rise all the way to a tie for the No. 3 ranking with fellow Magnolia State
squad Ole Miss.

“(Auburn) will be the best team we played so far,” Mississippi State coach Dan
Mullen said. “Every team we’ve played so far this year has been undefeated
going into the game. You look at Auburn and the type of team they are, the
teams knows how to win…Should be a pretty exciting game. Should be fun and
should be a great atmosphere. We’ll be ready to play.”

Auburn has a handle on the storied all-time series with Mississippi State,
61-24-2, which includes a 24-20 triumph at home last season.

The Tigers’ offense has been a well-oiled machine this season, displaying
excellent balance between the run (268.0 ypg) and the pass (229.2 ypg) while
scoring 42.0 ppg. It dominated a strong LSU defense a week ago by amassing
566 yards.

Nick Marshall scored four touchdowns last week in one of his best games of his
career. He’s completing 57.9 percent of his passes for 755 yards with eight
touchdowns to just one interception, and he’s been especially deadly outside
the pocket with 392 yards and four scores.

Cameron Artis-Payne has taken over as the featured back this season and has
shined with 594 yards and five touchdowns on 110 carries. Corey Grant (58
carries, 392 yards, two TDs) is also in the mix.

D’haquille Williams (25 receptions, 385 yards, three TDs) has more than twice
as many receptions as anyone else on the team. Sammie Coates (nine receptions,
200 yards, TD) awoke from a season-long slumber last week with 144 yards and a

While Auburn found success in 2013 in spite of its modest defense, the 2014
version of the squad has performed exceptionally well on that side of the
ball, holding teams to just 14.4 ppg and 306.6 ypg.

Cassanova McKinzy anchors the unit at linebacker with 35 tackles, 3.0 TFL, a
sack and a forced fumble. Kris Frost (4.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks) and Montravius Adams
(5.0 TFL, sack) generate a strong push up front. Jermaine Whitehead (12
tackles, two INTs) is currently serving an indefinite suspension.

As great as Auburn’s offense has been, Mississippi State’s has played even
better, ranking 12th in the nation in both scoring (42.6 ppg) and yardage
(541.8 ypg). The Bulldogs beat a high-flying Texas A&M at its own game last
week by amassing 559 yards and scoring seven touchdowns.

With back-to-back outstanding performances against ranked teams, including a
five-touchdown showing last week, Dak Prescott has inserted himself directly
into the thick of the Heisman Trophy conversation. The dual-threat signal
caller has completed just shy of 64 percent of his passes for 1,232 yards, 13
touchdowns and two interceptions in addition to 455 yards and six scores on
the ground.

“He’s a guy who has an unbelievable work ethic, a desire to be great at
whatever he’s doing,” Mullen said of his signal caller. “I still think he’s
getting better every single day.”

Not to be overshadowed by Prescott is Josh Robinson, who is one of the
nation’s best running backs with 592 yards and six touchdowns on just 79
carries (7.5 ypc).

De’Runnya Wilson (14 receptions, 247 yards) is a great red-zone target with
five touchdowns. Jameon Lewis missed last week’s game with a leg injury and is
questionable to return this week, and his all-purpose numbers (350 yards, two
TDs) would only make the offense more potent.

Mississippi State’s defense did a great job of keeping Texas A&M in check last
week, intercepting Kenny Hill three times and recording four sacks. The unit
allows just 19.4 ppg this season, although its total defense (426.4 ypg) has
not been up to par.

Benardrick McKinney is one of the SEC’s best linebackers and has tallied 36
tackles, 6.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks and a fumble recovery. Preston Smith has made
plays all over the field with 15 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, two
interceptions, a forced fumble and two blocked kicks. Richie Brown has picked
off three passes.