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Mississippi State vs. Auburn prediction and pick for this Saturday's showdown in the SEC. Matt Hayes breaks down the game and gives his pick

Mississippi State vs. Auburn Prediction: Both Teams Look To Rebound From Losses Last Week

Mississippi State vs. Auburn - Out of the tunnel

Mississippi State vs. Auburn odds

This is where we find out how much longer Auburn coach Bryan Harsin will stay invested in enigmatic quarterback Bo Nix.

Auburn has a stout SEC defense. Auburn has a strong running game.

Auburn doesn’t have a quarterback who can win significant games in the SEC. No matter what you’ve heard about the new Bo Nix this season, the old Bo Nix shows up when Auburn needs smart, efficient play in big games.

So now, with three games remaining this season, does Harsin make the move to backup TJ Finley, who saved the Georgia State game earlier this season – or does he ride Nix through two winnable games (Mississippi State and South Carolina) and into the biggest game of the season vs. bitter rival Alabama?

At some point, a choice must be made. Auburn can’t continue to get game-turning mistakes in critical games from the most important position on the field.

Mike Leach has the quarterback spot figured out at Mississippi State. The kicking game? That’s another deliciously unique Leach story.

He doesn’t like kicking field goals. Never has. So when Mississippi State missed three last week in a three-point loss at Arkansas, well, Leach had to find a kicker.

He announced minutes after the game, after a tough loss was still sinking in, that he was holding kicking tryouts on campus this week. Anyone who can kick and has NCAA eligibility, come on out to the football facility and give it a whirl.

No word yet on if Leach has found a kicker.

Mississippi State Preview - When Mississippi State has the ball

The second-year jump as a starter by QB Will Rogers has been impressive.

The sophomore followed up a hit and miss season in 2020 by becoming more accurate and more decisive with the ball, and is driving the ball downfield more. The Bulldogs, stuck in a 10-12 yard box last season because they couldn’t throw vertically, are using the whole field in 2021 and Leach’s Air Raid offense is humming.

MSU has wins against ranked Texas A&M and Kentucky (two very good defenses), and if it had a viable kicker, could be 6-3 heading into a three-game stretch of winnable games to close the season.

Leach’s offense is what is it: about 7-10 plays run from 100 different formations to confuse and stress defenses. He believes so much in the system, that even if a defense knows what’s coming, they can’t stop it if the play is blocked (pass protected), the receiver runs the correct route to the step, and the quarterback throws the ball on time.

Rogers (23 TD, 8 INT) is completing 75 percent of his passes and has two dangerous options in WRs Makai Polk (71 catches, 6 TD) and Jaden Walley (37 catches, 5 TD). The Bulldogs run enough to keep defenses honest, but get more in the receiving games from RBs Jo’Quavious Marks (64 catches, 7 all-purpose TDs) and Dillon Johnson (47 catches, 3 all-purpose TDs).

Auburn has struggled at times in pass defense this season (64.3 percent of passes completed), but still has only given up 10 TDs. Auburn must get home with four down linemen against a shaky Mississippi State pass protection, and find a way to pressure Rogers (sacked 25 times this season).

Auburn Preview - When Auburn has the ball

The numbers tell the story. Against ranked teams this season, Nix has thrown 3 TDs and 3 INTs.

Against unranked teams: 6 TDs, 0 INTs.

Here comes Mississippi State, ranked No.17 in last week’s College Football Playoff poll, with the No.4 defense in the SEC – a unit that is giving up only 102.1 rushing yards per game. Auburn wants to run the ball downhill with TBs Tank Bigsby (735 yards, 7 TDs) and Jarquez Hunter (544 yards, 3 TDs), and then throw off play action.

That has been the formula for success for Nix and the passing game for the last three seasons. When the Tigers can run, Nix plays much more in control because defenses are too consumed on stopping the run.

When Auburn is in obvious down-and-distance situations, that’s when Nix gets in trouble. He escapes the pocket too early, and doesn’t give receivers time to gain separation.

Too many times he rolls out and away from protection when all he needs to do is move in the pocket. Those are the dangerous plays -- when Nix goes off schedule and tries to throw accurately on the run and make a play out of nothing — that lead to game-changing mistakes.

It doesn’t help Nix that Auburn doesn’t really have an true No.1 receiver. Kobe Hudson (29 catches, 1 TD) and Demetris Robertson (27 catches, 3 TDs) are solid, but they’re not stretching the defense or getting explosion plays after the catch.

Mississippi State vs. Auburn Prediction - The bottom line

If Auburn can run the ball consistently with Bigsby and Hunter, everything changes for a sputtering offense. The Tigers play well at home, and – here’s the key – protect the ball at home.

If Mississippi State can protect Rogers, this will be a last team with the ball wins game. That team will be Auburn.

Mississippi State vs. Auburn Pick

Prediction: Auburn, 24-20

Pick: Mississippi State +5.5


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