SMITH COLUMN: Offense plan shouldn't be hard for MSU
It shouldn't be difficult for the Mississippi State Bulldogs to figure out the right plays to call against Auburn on Saturday.
All someone has to do is look at the Southeastern Conference team statistics and realize where the defending national champion Tigers are most vulnerable.
Auburn is at the bottom of the league in rush defense, giving up 227 yards to Utah State in its first game.
With its 309 yards rushing against Memphis in last Thursday's 59-14 season-opening win against Memphis, Mississippi State is at the top of the SEC in rush offense.
If the Bulldogs don't find a way to run Vick Ballard, the SEC's Offensive Player of the Week, at least 20 times against the Tigers, then something is wrong.
It is also a pretty good bet that MSU quarterback Chris Relf will run more than he throws against Auburn.
Sure, Relf is going to have to pass a little bit to keep the Tigers off-balance on defense. If all the Bulldogs plan to do is run, run, run, then Auburn will load the box and take its chances.
Still, State must establish the run. If the Bulldogs can do that, it could be a long day for the home-standing Tigers.
It's hard to know for sure if the numbers included in the SEC statistics are legitimate after just one game, but MSU came into the season with the reputation of being a good rushing squad.
With Relf, Ballard and Perkins, who combined for 2,247 yards on the ground last year, returning, the Bulldogs have potential to run for a decent amount of yardage.
Ballard probably won't have to duplicate the career-high 166 yards rushing gained against Memphis, but another 100-yard outing against Auburn with a little bit of production from Relf, Perkins and others may get the job done.
The SEC opener is a huge game for MSU. If the Bulldogs can beat the Tigers, it would give them an early advantage in the SEC Western Division race.
With back-to-back games against Auburn and LSU, this is a crucial point of the season for MSU.
It may be unfair to suggest that the next two games against a pair of SEC Tigers are must-wins for the Bulldogs, but if they are to reach their goal of winning the West and making it to Atlanta, then it pretty much needs to be that way. MSU can't start out 0-2 in the West and expect to win the division.
The Bulldogs have the type of team to end the 16-game winning streak, the longest in the nation, for Auburn.
To do that, MSU must beat the Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium. It hasn't happened often for the Bulldogs, but they were successful in 2007 at Auburn, winning a 19-14 decision with Sylvester Croom as the coach.
There's nothing current MSU coach Dan Mullen would like better than to get his first victory over the Auburn Tigers in three tries.
Danny P. Smith is sports editor and columnist for the Starkville Daily News. The opinions in this column are his and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Daily News or its staff.
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