Defensive keys to beating the Mississippi State Bulldogs

It’ll be Cadillac Williams’ first test as a head coach against the Mississippi State Bulldogs on Saturday, and what a test it is.

Unlike other opponents, the Bulldogs will try to assault the Tigers almost exclusively through the air. That will be a welcome break from the run performances that have gashed Auburn in the past few weeks, but it will be a great first test for Williams and his staff to adjust the game plan properly and put together a defense that will stop Mississippi State from imposing its will in the passing game.

Here are four defensive keys for the Auburn Tigers to beat the Bulldogs on Saturday:

Don't worry about the run

Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

This is Mike Leach we’re talking about, after all.

Leach has long been a proponent of the air raid offense, which focuses primarily on the passing game and relies extraordinarily little on the run game. To put this into perspective, the team’s leading rusher Dillion Johnson has less rushing yards on the year (407) than the team’s leading receiver, Rara Thomas, has receiving yards (456).

Auburn has been gashed by the run game as of late, but Leach won’t change to accommodate that — don’t worry about stacking the box and drop your linebackers into coverage and you should be on your way to limiting the Bulldogs’ offense.

Keep Will Rogers on his toes

Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

So the question remains, then — if you only focus on the pass, then how do you do it?

Some may say to rush with just four and drop everyone else back while others may believe that constant blitz pressure will make the offense collapse at the seam, but there’s no need to be mutually exclusive here. A healthy mixup of dropping back into coverage and bringing the blitz when the team least expects it should throw Rogers off his game, and doing that will make Leach’s air raid crumble. Being smart about when to bring pressure is key here, though, because getting too predictable will have a talent like Rogers make you pay.

Zero in on Caleb Ducking

Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

By nature of the air raid, many Bulldog wide receivers have a lot of receiving yards. One wideout in particular has a monopoly on touchdowns.

Caleb Ducking’s 6’5″, 200-pound frame makes him both a fast receiver and one that can catch a high-point football from anywhere on the field. He has seven touchdowns this year, which is three more than the next closest wideout on the roster, and leads the team in receptions — so getting a safety over in his direction might be a good investment for the Tigers on game day.

Force the turnover

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Yes, this one seems obvious, but hear me out.

An air raid offense will pass far often than it runs, and getting an interception is a lot easier than forcing a fumble against a running back (in most cases). Defensive backs at Auburn have to take advantage of this opportunity by doing something they haven’t done a lot lately — pick the ball off.

Rogers, unfortunately, doesn’t throw a lot of those, but that’s only lately. He had three straight games with a pick to start the year off, and although he kept it clean against Alabama he threw one in a loss to Kentucky the week prior. The Bulldogs have lost the last two games where Rogers threw a pick, so the Auburn defense would do well to make it happen on Saturday.

Story originally appeared on Auburn Wire