Surging Bulldogs come to Tuscaloosa looking to slow down Tide steamroller
I’d like to start this Mississippi State vs. Alabama preview with an apology. I give my sincere unreserved apology to Alabama and the entire Crimson Tide fan base. I wrote a column last week about the five reasons LSU will beat Alabama.
Yes, I actually gave reasons why the Tide would lose a game. Silly me. What was I thinking? So it didn’t happen. In fact, the Tigers didn’t even come close. The Tide went out there and said, “Hey, remember when we could play dominating, send-your-team-back-to-their-lockers-with-their-shoulders-slumped defense? Well here it is again.” The Tide held LSU to 196 yards of offense and had their fans sitting on their hands the whole game long. Welcome back Alabama. I guess you never really went anywhere.
Mississippi State hopes to wake the ghosts of 1980. That was the year that they broke the 28-game winning streak of Bear Bryant’s boys with a stunning 6-3 upset. It was MSU’s first win over the Tide since 1957. This year, the Hail Staters come into Tuscaloosa with a bevy of confidence after having won three of their last four games, two of those being over ranked teams in then-No. 8 Auburn and then-No. 15 Texas A&M. Now if only the ghost of Billy Jackson would arise and walk the sidelines for the Maroons once again this week.
A little history from the way-back machine:
Mississippi State at Alabama
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 10 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Alabama -23.5
Three Things to Watch
1. The health of Alabama’s QBs
Suddenly Alabama’s embarrassment of riches at quarterback has taken a decided turn south. Tua Tagovailoa re-tweaked a knee during the LSU game while celebrating a touchdown and Jalen Hurts is still recovering from a minor surgery on his foot. Mac Jones, the third stringer, is in line to lead the offense should Tagovailoa not play up to snuff. Also, you can bet your bottom dollar that sack-masters like Mississippi State’s Jeffery Simmons (who leads SEC D-linemen in tackles) and Montez Sweat (leads all Power 5 players with 20 sacks since 2017) will be ready to administer more pain if they can.
2. Dogs' defense
Lost in all the hype and hubbub of last week’s Bama-LSU showdown is the fact that LSU’s defense was supposed to be the stiffest test for the Tide offense. But in reality, the Tigers D is ranked 40th in the country, so that’s not . Meanwhile, those angry Bulldogs are barking at No. 6 in the country in total defense. Yes, THIS should be hyped as the biggest test for the Crimson Tide, but somehow that fact gets lost in the hype machine. MSU gives up just 278 yards per game and is second in scoring defense, giving up 12.3 points per game.
3. Stopping Fitzgerald & Co.
As mentioned above the old-school, nasty-attitude defense of the Tide made a triumphant return against LSU, holding the Tigers to 196 yards overall and just 12 yards on the ground, while also scaring the crap out of the rest of D1 football. Twelve freakin’ yards? Will that carry over here vs. the Bulldogs? It won’t be easy just because of the dynamic Nick Fitzgerald and the improving MSU offense. Head coach Joe Moorhead mentioned prior to last week’s Louisiana Tech game that he wanted the offense to be “more dynamic and more diversified.” Well mission accomplished because the Cowbell Boys exploded for 45 points and 532 yards. Fitzgerald is the difference-maker. He is the SEC’s all-time leading rusher for quarterbacks and has 19 100-yard games in his MSU career. Fitz also has 241- and 243-yard passing performances in back-to-back weeks. If he stays hot, he’ll have a much better chance for success than Joe Burrow did last week.
Mississippi State has played nine games and has relented just nine touchdowns. In fact, the Bulldogs have surrendered just two touchdowns in their opponents' last 51 possessions. That means the Bulldogs lead the nation in angry-ass stinginess. And their nasty demeanor will serve them well here as they saw some semblance of hope after LSU “held” the Tide to 29 points. The big question is whether the MSU offense can actually score 24 to 28 points or not. Nick Fitzgerald seemed like he was trying to do it all himself at LSU a couple of weeks ago, but the play-calling has been better the last two games.
But c’mon, this is still No. 1-ranked Alabama, only this time the Crimson Tide have added a little more meanness to their defense. Barring an early injury to Tua Tagovailoa (knock on wood Bama fans), the Tide have too many offensive weapons in the form of the best QB in the country, receivers Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs and running backs Najee Harris and Damien Harris. Advantage Tide.
Prediction: Alabama 31, Mississippi State 13
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.