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Mississippi State vs. Auburn Preview

The Auburn Tigers are coming off a loss to Texas A&M on the weekend and it’s likely that coach Bryan Harsin will have questions over quarterback Bo Nix following a pair of drops vs. the Aggies, one of which led to a touchdown that put the nail in the coffin of what was an otherwise defensive affair.

Their upcoming game against Mississippi State, set for this coming Saturday, might give some insight as to where Harsin’s head is over Nix. The Tigers boast a solid defense and impressive running prowess yet they are bereft of a QB who can provide significant contributions in meaningful games.

Nix used to be way more dependable than what he’s shown so far this season and could always be counted upon to step up when Auburn needed him. This season has seen him take a step back and, with three games remaining, the head coach might consider starting TJ Finley. The latter spared the Tigers’ blushes vs. Georgia State back in September and is a viable option for Harsin.

He could opt to stick it out with Nix for the next two games against Mississippi State and South Carolina as they’re going into those games as favorites where the best sportsbooks opine. Auburn will have their last action of the regular season against bitter rivals Alabama and whoever plays the next two games will likely be the one who steers things from the back in the final game.

Harsin has a difficult decision to make but it’s one that really needs making as the Tigers simply can’t keep making the mistakes they’ve been making from the QB position.

The Bulldogs don’t have such a quandary; head coach Mike Leach has no such concerns. However, there is something to be said for kicking. Leach isn’t a fan of kicking but he’s had to go out in search of a kicker after Mississippi State suffered a three-point loss to Arkansas because they missed three field-goal attempts.

He made it known right after the game that he would be holding kicking tryouts on campus this week and the door would be open to anyone with NCAA eligibility. As to whether he’s found one or not is still unknown.

As mentioned above, Leach has no QB headache. That’s thanks to the progress made by Will Rogers in his second year. Following a relatively tepid campaign in 2020, Rogers has become a very dependable quarterback, with his decision-making and passing accuracy proving quite remarkable. He’s also driving the ball downfield a lot more.

The team suffered for lack of vertical passing last season and were mostly confined to 12-yard passes last season but they’re using the entire field this term. They’ve picked up wins against ranked teams in A&M and Kentucky, who both field great defenses.

A kicker would have left them with a 6-3 record as they look forward to their final three games, all of them considered winnable. Their problems with third downs were exposed in their last game too.

Rogers is completing 75 percent of his passes and is helped by the fact that he has wide receivers Makai Polk and Jalen Walley at his disposal. Polk has 71 catches and six touchdowns to his name while Walley has scored five TDs and caught 37 passes.

The Bulldogs mix it up well running too.

Auburn, meanwhile, will rue the three interceptions Nix has thrown against ranked teams this year; the three touchdowns he’s passed for are probably even more telling. The QB has thrown six TDs without interceptions against unranked sides.

Upcoming opponents MSU ranked No.17 in last week’s College Football Playoff poll and has the fourth-best defense in the SEC, giving up just 102.1 rushing yards a game. The Tigers want to run the ball down the field with running backs Tank Bugsby and Jarquez Hunter, who have a combined 1279 rushing yards and 10 TDs combined, before throwing play-action.

This has worked for Nix and the general passing game at Auburn for the last three years. The QB has fared better when the Tigers can run effectively as defenses are more focused on dealing with the run. He seems shaky when he’s in obvious passing territory, though, as he leaves the pocket too early and doesn’t give his receivers enough time to create space.

Nix has been guilty of rolling out from protection when he simply needs to move within the pocket. Attempts to go off on his own and try to throw on the run have led to costly mistakes. His passing is also hurt by the fact that Auburn doesn’t really have a true No.1 receiver. Kobe Hudson and Demetris Robertson are pretty good yet don’t do quite enough to stretch defenses.

If Auburn could do consistent enough damage and can protect the ball at home, they should have a comfortable time out on the field but if MSU’s offensive line could get the job done protecting Rogers, they will have a big chance at winning this one.

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