Bulldogs look to avoid becoming latest team to get swept away by Crimson Tide
This will be fun. I mean how often do you see a pirate checking out the Tides? Yes, that's a silly way of saying that Mike Leach (aka The Pirate) will have his work cut out for him as his 1-4 Mississippi State Bulldogs go up against the undefeated, world-beating Alabama Crimson Tide.
Admit it though, at first it looked like this was going to be a magical season for the Bulldogs after that stunning win over then-No. 6 LSU. But now we're wondering if the Maroons are going to win another game this whole season. They scored 44 points vs. the Tigers and have scored just 30 in three games since.
Meanwhile, the Tide have lived up to the billing and look to be on their way to a College Football Playoff spot, especially after dismantling the Georgia Bulldogs in the second half of their top-three showdown two weeks ago and then routing Tennessee last week.
Mississippi State at No. 2 Alabama
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct., 31 at 7 p.m. ET
Spread: Alabama -31
When Mississippi State Has the Ball
For crying out loud, no turnovers. Yep, this one is a no-brainer when playing Alabama. But the Bulldogs have been really bad in the turnover margin, ranking No. 98 in the country. K.J. Costello has thrown 10 picks already, a total surpassed by just one quarterback in the country (Duke's Chase Brice has 11 INTs). If Mississippi State doesn't win the turnover battle here, it's blowout city for the Red Elephants.
I know it's not Mike Leach's forte, but try to run the ball. Bama's stops unit isn't what it used to be, having given up 147 rushing yards per game and as we saw vs. Ole Miss, mixing in the run with the passing game in an up-tempo style was pretty effective against their defense. In their last three games, the Tide have given up 268 yards, 145 yards, and 139 yards on the ground vs. the Rebels, Georgia, and Tennessee. It doesn't help Leach's plans, however, that running back Kylin Hill is reportedly going to opt out the rest of this season. After putting up 1,350 rushing yards last season, Hill was off to a slow start with just 58 yards on 15 carries but he was still the best option Leach had on his roster.
More un-Bama-like defense. Not only is Alabama giving up chunks of yards on the ground, but this also is a defense that does not get to the quarterback very much. Bama is currently 13th out of 14 teams in the SEC in sacks, gathering just seven in five games. If edge rushers Christopher Allen and Will Anderson don't amp things up a bit, look for Costello to get his time to make his reads which should lead to some points on the board.
When Alabama Has the Ball
New stars in the sky. Sadly, as you probably saw, the Tide will play the rest of the season without their playmaking receiver/returner Jaylen Waddle. What does that mean? Well, he's a transcendent talent but the Tide are not without other difference-makers. Obviously, DeVonta Smith is a stud and John Metchie III is averaging an eye-popping 24 yards per catch. Slade Bolden could get more opportunities now to shine and keep an eye on tight end Miller Forristall, a stellar blocker who is emerging as a go-to target as well.
Strength vs. strength. One of the most entertaining aspects of this game will be Alabama's seeming unstoppable passing attack (397.8 ypg, third nationally) squaring off with Mississippi State's SEC-best pass defense (192.3 ypg allowed) and productive pass rush (12 sacks, third in the conference). Really looking forward to seeing how the Tide's O-line holds up against the pressure.
Third down, man. Mac Jones has been clutch when needed, which is why the Tide are tops nationally (for teams that have played more than one game) in third-down conversions, at 61 percent. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are second in the SEC in getting off of the field on third down at 33 percent. But head coach Nick Saban bemoaned his team's play on third down vs. Georgia, converting on less than half (7-of-16) opportunities. So keep an eye on how Bama does on that down vs. the Bulldogs. It will help MSU if its defense can somehow push Jones and company to some uncomfortable third-and-longs.
If this is the usual focused, energetic Crimson Tide we're used to seeing from Nick Saban it's just a matter of them naming their score. But there are a few small embers that keep me thinking that the Bulldogs could have some success here, particularly if they take care of the ball and plan out a good run/pass mix.
Still, like Mike Tyson once famously said, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face. If this were a boxing match, I'd say Bama by knockout in the fourth round.
Prediction: Alabama 42, 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.