- Greg Ostendorf, ESPN Staff Writer
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Auburn has dominated this series as of late, winning 11 of the last 13 games, but take a closer look and you’ll see that it’s not as lopsided as it looks. Five of the last seven games have been decided by a touchdown or less, and three of the last four came down to the final drive.
Don’t be surprised if Saturday’s game in Starkville, a matchup of No. 2 vs. No. 3, comes down to final drive yet again.
Key player: C Reese Dismukes
In a game like this, experience is critical, and nobody on Auburn has more experience than Dismukes. He’s started 42 games. He’s been to Mississippi State. He’s played in big games, bigger games than this even. (Remember last year’s Iron Bowl?) He simply knows what it takes to win. It doesn’t matter that All-SEC freshman guard Alex Kozan is out for the season or that the offensive line has had to reshuffle in recent weeks since Patrick Miller went down. What matters is that the Tigers are winning games, and that’s in no small part thanks to their captain. The offense will once again be following his lead on Saturday.
Key question: How does Auburn handle the cowbells?
Auburn tight end C.J. Uzomah hates going to Mississippi State because of the cowbells. “Those things are awful,” he told the media Tuesday. And who can blame him? That constant ringing throughout the game? Brutal. So what’s the best way to take the crowd and the cowbells out of it? Score early and often. If the Tigers can get off to a fast start, similar to what they did against LSU last Saturday, then the noise won’t be a problem. If they fall behind, it’s a different story. The only ringing Auburn wants to hear is from its own fans’ cowbells.
Key stat: Auburn is 14-0 in the last two seasons when it runs for at least 250 yards and 3-2 when it does not, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
So as long as the Tigers rush for 250 yards, they’re going to win. Easy, right? Not so fast. It’s been well documented all week that Mississippi State held Auburn to 120 yards rushing last season, its fewest ever under Gus Malzahn. Sure, it was only Nick Marshall’s third game and he probably knew about 25 percent of the offense, but give credit where credit is due. The Bulldogs have a big, physical front seven, and Benardrick McKinney is as good a linebacker as you’ll find in the SEC. Auburn isn’t going to just run over Mississippi State. Expect Malzahn to get a little creative with his play calling and pull out a few tricks on Saturday.