Here are three matchups featuring NFL prospects to keep an eye on when No. 21 Auburn takes the field at Mississippi State:
The two best pro prospects in this game will be going head-to-head at times tonight. Ziemba goes 6-foot-5, 320 pounds and moves well for his size, and while we wouldn't go so far as to say he's soft he's not a trained killer, either. He is more of a finesse blocker but takes good angles and is a good fit in an offense that often has its linemen on the move.
Ziemba gets into trouble at times against big, powerful defensive ends who can muscle him around at the point of attack, and that's exactly what McPhee is. McPhee gives up some size and is not an explosive edge rusher but he does have good combination of quickness and power. However, we question whether McPhee has the athleticism to play on the perimeter in the NFL and we'll get a good gauge tonight against a tackle who moves well and an offense that features misdirection that forces the defensive front seven to make plays in space.
Auburn RB/WR Mario Fannin vs. Mississippi State OLB K.J. Wright
Fannin finished second on the team in receptions last year and continues to play a big role in Auburn's passing game. Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn moves the versatile Fannin around the formation creating favorable matchups for Fannin and making it tougher for the defense to locate him. Look for Malzahn to try to isolate Wright against Fannin.
While Wright does a good job of getting to depth and shows adequate range in zone coverage, he isn't fast enough to stay with Fannin in man coverage. Wright is a tough run stuffer and a powerful open-field tackler who can stop Fannin in his tracks when Fannin carries the ball. However, there are concerns about his instincts and Malzahn will throw a great deal of misdirection/deception at him. If Wright takes any false steps he'll struggle to recover in time to make a play on the more explosive Fannin.
Mississippi State OT Derrick Sherrod vs. Auburn DEs Michael Goggans and Antoine Carter
Sherrod isn't a dominant run blocker but gets into sound position and walls defenders off. He has the sound footwork to get into adequate initial position and has the size to engulf Goggans and Carter when Auburn runs behind him. While Goggans recorded a sack against Mississippi State last year he lined up at left end and worked against ROT Addison Lawrence, and tight coverage was a factor. He'll have a tougher time getting around Sherrod.
Carter, who missed the Mississippi State game last year, is more explosive and will provide Sherrod with a tougher test. Carter caught Sherrod lunging and pulled him down on his way to a sack when the two faced off two years ago. Sherrod needs to do a better job of staying patient, moving his feet and letting Carter come to him. Finally, as we mentioned in our preview of this game, defensive coordinator Ted Roof does a good job disguising his pressure packages. Sherrod's ability to recognize and pick up the blitz is inconsistent on last year's film, so this is an excellent opportunity for him to show he's made strides in this area.