Alabama seized control of the SEC West with a victory over LSU last week, but the Crimson Tide still have obstacles to navigate, starting with a trip to Starkville to take on Mississippi State on Saturday afternoon. Alabama’s win against the Tigers, along with an Ole Miss loss to Arkansas cleared the way for coach Nick Saban’s team to win the SEC West once again. Mississippi State is also in the mix to win the SEC West, but its scenario to take the No. 1 spot in the division is a little complicated.
The Crimson Tide ranked No. 2 on Tuesday night’s College Football Playoff rankings release and could unseat Clemson for No. 1 overall depending on what transpires over the next four weeks of action. Since losing to Ole Miss 43-37 in mid-September, Alabama has dominated against Georgia, Texas A&M and LSU and posted conference wins over Tennessee and Arkansas. On the other sideline, Mississippi State quietly landed at No. 17 in the latest rankings, as the Bulldogs have gained momentum behind a four-game winning streak. Coach Dan Mullen had to replace several key starters from last year’s team but managed a quick rebuild behind senior quarterback Dak Prescott.
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Alabama leads the all-time series against Mississippi State 77-18-3. The Crimson Tide have won seven in a row against the Bulldogs. Mississippi State’s last win in this series was in 2007.
Alabama at Mississippi State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 17 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Alabama -8
Three Things to Watch
1. Avoiding a Letdown
Alabama has a tough assignment on Saturday afternoon, as the Crimson Tide have to find a way to match the intensity and energy displayed in last week’s matchup. After a showdown between top-five teams, can Alabama rekindle that energy on the road after a physical affair against LSU? In each of the last two seasons, the Crimson Tide have played Mississippi State the week after a game against LSU. Alabama won 25-20 in Tuscaloosa last season and claimed a 20-7 slugfest victory over the Bulldogs in 2013. While Mississippi State may not be as strong of a team as it was last season, the Crimson Tide cannot afford to show up in Starkville with a flat performance. The Bulldogs are hungry for the upset and could spoil Alabama’s national and SEC title hopes with a win. Last week’s game against LSU was arguably the biggest of the season for the Crimson Tide. Fast forward to Saturday and Mississippi State is in the same position. Will Alabama match the Bulldogs energy and avoid a letdown on Saturday afternoon?
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2. Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott
It’s no secret the SEC’s best quarterback resides in Starkville. Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott is having an outstanding senior campaign, throwing for 2,351 yards and 18 touchdowns to just one interception. He also leads the team with 418 rushing yards and seven scores. Prescott isn’t a one-man show, but he drives the Mississippi State offense and is the key to the upset hopes on Saturday afternoon. The senior has to continue to limit mistakes and use his mobility to escape the nation’s best front seven. Additionally, he needs a little help from his supporting cast. The Bulldogs are dealing with a few ailments to their offensive line, but this unit has allowed just nine sacks in five SEC games. Prescott can spread the field with one of the SEC’s best receiving corps, including De’Runnya Wilson (eight touchdowns) and Fred Ross (51 catches). The rushing attack will be under the spotlight, as Prescott needs more help from Brandon Holloway (220 yards), Ashton Shumpert (174 yards) and Aeris Williams (164 yards) out of the backfield. Prescott might be the most valuable player in this game. He’s capable of carrying Mississippi State to the upset and is a tough matchup for Alabama’s defense with his dual-threat ability. After all, dual-threat quarterbacks have provided the most headaches for Nick Saban's defense in recent years. The Crimson Tide is going to focus on Prescott. Will the supporting cast step up in this matchup? Just how far can the senior quarterback carry Mississippi State on Saturday afternoon?
3. Battle in the Trenches
On paper, this area is where Alabama has an advantage over Mississippi State. The Crimson Tide has the best front seven in the nation on defense, and the offensive line is among the best in the SEC. Alabama’s rush defense ranks second nationally, limiting opponents to 75.8 yards per game. Additionally, this group wreaks havoc at the line of scrimmage with 29 sacks and 60 tackles for a loss. The offensive line has experienced a few ups and downs so far this year but is coming off a standout performance against LSU. The front five led the way for the Crimson Tide to rush for 250 yards and three touchdowns on 55 attempts last week. Stopping the run has been a challenge at times for Mississippi State this season and this defense faces another test against Alabama running back Derrick Henry. The Bulldogs rank 10th in the SEC by giving up 167.7 rushing yards per game. This unit surrendered 215 yards on the ground to Missouri last week, while LSU recorded 266 back in September. However, the numbers are better for coordinator Manny Diaz in terms of per carry totals. Mississippi State is allowing only 3.9 yards per rush and just 2.7 inside of the red zone. Even if Prescott finds rushing lanes or makes a few big throws against Alabama’s secondary, it won’t matter if Mississippi State struggles to keep the pass rush away from its senior quarterback. Additionally, the Bulldogs have to find a way to slow down Henry and force quarterback Jake Coker to win this game with his arm.
There are factors working in Mississippi State’s favor on Saturday afternoon. The atmosphere, a potential letdown by Alabama and senior quarterback Dak Prescott all provide hope for the Bulldogs. However, will a huge performance from Prescott be enough to score the upset? Probably not. As good as the senior quarterback is, the other pieces for Mississippi State have to step up. The defense has to shut down Henry, force a couple of turnovers and get help from the supporting cast. That’s a lot to ask. Sure, Alabama may not be as fired up for this game as it was last week. However, there’s an edge in talent on the Crimson Tide sideline. History is also in Alabama’s favor. In the last seven matchups between these two teams (all Crimson Tide wins), Mississippi State has scored more than 10 points one time. Alabama starts slow but takes control in the second half to move one step closer to winning the SEC West.