Scouting Auburn-Mississippi State, 9/12
So let's discuss this Auburn-Mississippi State dilemma. I find this game intestesting primarily for the Tony Franklin ramifications. Auburn's offense will be going against a team this weekend that has players, good coaches and a clue. Can Les Tigres overwhelm these kinds of players with that offense?
There is considerable pressure on Franklin these days. He was made out to be guru of innovation -- rightly or wrongly -- and his offense has produced ordinary numbers so far. Nobody is watching this situation more closely that Tommy Tuberville, who has a lot of reputation invested in Franklin.
I'll be surprised to see MSU score more than 10 points.
Let's get to business.
POSITION BY POSITION
Advantage: Mississippi State
Wesley Carroll is underrated. He has enough guile and experience to make useful things happen on the field. He also has some arm strength. Could he start at Auburn? You'd better believe it.
This is MSU's strongest overall position because of Anthony Dixon and Christian Ducre. Yet Auburn also carries the ball forceful with Ben Tate and Brad Lester. It's almost a wash. Tate is the best player of the four. Check to Auburn.
Could it be? I have this unfounded suspicion that the Tigers' receivers are going to make a big step forward at some point soon. Rod Smith, James Swinton and Tommy Trott have been around for ages now. They're catching on.
Really intriguing overall group. Players and coaches seem unified in their belief that Jason Bosley's move to tackle (and Ryan Pugh's corresponding move to center) actually improves what already was an excellent line.
Did you see Sen'Derrick Marks chasing down USM's tailback last week? That's a 290-pound tackle showing legitimate pursuit capabilities. As if the Tigers needed more skill here. Tez Doolittle seemed to take another step forward last week, too.
Has any defender made a bigger jump this season than Josh Bynes? He plays behind Tray Blackmon, which assures playing-time issues, but Auburn now has five linebackers that would start on most SEC teams.
Advantage: Mississippi State
Auburn's first-team group is above average, but MSU's group is the SEC's best. Derek Pegues is a star. Throw in De'Mon Glanton and Dominic Douglas and you have serious skill in the secondary.
Auburn is strong in the traditional areas (punting, kicking) and now Robert Dunn has emerged as a home-run threat on punt returns. Special teams have given the Tigers plenty of boosts this season.
Sylvester Croom is the most unappreciated coach in the SEC outside of his own area. The guy has done really nice work cleaning up Jackie Sherrill's mess. Still, Tommy Tuberville has accomplished more and his team is a threat to win the West. MSU? Not so much.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Wesley Carroll (No. 13)
6-1, 190, Soph.
Last week: 15-of-23 for 158 yards, 2 TDs (vs. Southeastern Louisiana)
Scouting report: Carroll is a surprise in some ways. He was mostly overlooked as a high-school senior in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., because he didn't have any particular skill that stood out. Two years later, he looks like a steal. Carroll has at least average arm strength and above-average running speed. What makes him so useful is his ability to make thoughtful decisions. He is rarely intercepted (though he opened the season with two picks against Louisiana Tech) and understands his limitations. He doesn't panic. MSU's offense has grown to savor Carroll's consistency.
WR Tommy Trott (No. 5)
6-5, 242, Jr.
Last week: 3 catches for 44 yards (vs. Southern Miss)
Scouting report: Though Trott technically is a tight end, he has surprising grace on the field. Coaches often praise Trott for running correct routes and finding ways to exploit open space. Getting him the ball has been problematic for reasons that coaches and players couldn't explain. Trott finally broke out against USM last weekend with three receptions. He can be a major passing-game asset if used properly.
CB Jerraud Powers (No. 8)
5-9, 191, Jr.
Last week: 8 tackles, 1 interception (vs. Southern Miss)
Scouting report: Powers doesn't have the size, but he certainly understands how to defend against the pass. The junior thinks along with quarterbacks in real time, which allows him to move into correct position almost all the time. Long arms and strong legs allow Powers to make plays against taller receivers. He's among the team's most fit players. Powers can play an entire game if needed.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Speed will be important this week. MSU's top defender, middle linebacker Jamar Chaney, is out for the season because of injury. The Bulldogs have been using a variety of players to fill that hole, which affects how MSU's front seven works from snap to snap. Auburn will work quickly to limit the Bulldogs' ability to re-align prior to each snap. Quarterback Chris Todd must be careful when challenging the Bulldogs deep because they're loaded with veteran guys in the secondary. Auburn has a clear advantage with its running game. The pace along with the Tigers' stout offensive should create plenty of big-play opportunities for Ben Tate and Brad Lester.
Several Auburn players began wearing hard hats this season to emphasize the team's need for dirty work up front. This game will challenge that work ethic. MSU loves to run the ball. It has a decent offensive line and two excellent tailbacks. Quarterback Wesley Carroll also can run. Auburn must find ways to win one-on-one matchups along the line of scrimmage. That creates detrimental clutter for the Bulldogs' running game. Carroll can make plays in the passing game, but he isn't known as a deep thrower. Auburn's first-team defensive backs should be able to handle that. Stopping the tailbacks, though, is more difficult.