Mississippi State and Alabama come into this showdown in Tuscaloosa in a salty mood as both took losses on the chin last Saturday. The 25th-ranked Bulldogs were 5-1 before getting beaten 27-17 at Kentucky, and that game wasn't as close as it sounds since the Bulldogs' offense only accounted for 10 points the whole game. And the Crimson Tide, well… I'm sure you all saw it. Alabama missed a field goal by a foot with 16 seconds left and then allowed a last-play field goal by Tennessee, accounting for its first "Third Saturday in October" loss to the Volunteers since 2006, 52-49.
And in case you're wondering, that is the most points the Red Elephants have relented since 1907 when they gave up 54 points to somebody named Sewanee. Most ghastly of all? The Tide fell out of the top five in the rankings for the first time since November 2015.
Let me reiterate, these teams are not coming into this one in good spirits.
No. 24 Mississippi State at No. 6 Alabama
When Mississippi State Has the Ball
After watching what Hendon Hooker did to that Alabama back seven last weekend, Will Rogers and his connection mates have to be licking their chops. So far, the patented Mike Leach Air Raid attack with Rogers at the controls has generated 334.6 passing yards per game with a 71.3 percent completion rate. This after finishing last year with 378.3 yards through the air while completing 75 percent of all those attempts. But Kentucky held Rogers to just 203 yards last week, so redemption is on his mind against an Alabama defense that dropped to eighth in the SEC against the pass at 198 yards allowed per game. Then again, giving up 385 yards (and five touchdowns) in one contest will do that. Oh, one more thing about the MSU offense? The Bulldogs have scored touchdowns on 15 consecutive trips inside the red zone.
Don't put too fine a point on the Crimson Tide defense being a complete sieve last week. The Tide still rank 16th overall, at 296 yards per game while holding opponents to a 25 percent success rate on third down. They also give up just 18.1 points per game (it was 12 prior to Tennessee dropping 52). So don't tell me this is a bad defense. But one thing that does have to change is that Alabama had just one sack and zero hurries on Hendon Hooker. ZERO. If that doesn't light a fire under Will Anderson Jr., I don't know what will. Watch the pass rush and the blitz packages that head coach Nick Saban, defensive coordinator Pete Golding, and the rest of the staff put in for this week.
When Alabama Has the Ball
Say what you want, but the offense is still as dangerous as ever, averaging 513 yards and 45 points per game. Reigning Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young made his return from a shoulder injury against Tennessee and was back to his old self, completing 25 passes for 455 yards with two TDs and no picks. He won't have to shoulder the load this time, as the Tide will probably be much more balanced. But it is comforting to know that his golden right arm is there when the need arises.
Watch for a big game from running back Jahmyr Gibbs, who looks for redemption after being held to 103 yards on 24 carries last week. Mississippi State got gashed by Kentucky's Chris Rodriguez Jr. last week (197 yds., 6.4 ypc), making it three straight SEC games the Bulldogs have allowed a 100-yard rusher. This has taken the shine off of a defensive effort that had done a good job against the run in the early going. Now MSU ranks eighth in the SEC at 153 rushing yards per game allowed. Alabama is a bad team to face when you've developed issues with your run defense.
One of the entertaining aspects of watching a Bama game is waiting for the next Saban sonic meltdown. No team in the country has been flagged more times than his, 66 in seven games. Those yellow hankies also have cost the Tide 559 yards as well. Penalties were a big issue last week in the painful loss to the Volunteers. There are some interesting discrepancies when it comes to these penalties too. Alabama has been called for holding nine times this season while its opponents have yet to be assessed the same infraction. There have been 11 pass interference penalties called on the Tide vs. three for the other side. So go figure. By the way, Mississippi State isn't much better when it comes to hurting its chances with penalties. The Bulldogs are No. 119 in the country at 71 penalty yards per game (Alabama is No. 129 at 79.9).
Early scoring will be vital in this one as each team looks to shake the bad taste of last week out of their mouths. For the first time in 13 games, Alabama gave up a touchdown in the first quarter (hell, they actually gave up THREE touchdowns in the first quarter to the Vols.) By contrast, Mississippi State has outscored opponents by a staggering 66-7 count in the first quarter this year. Yikes. If the Bulldogs can gain some ground early on against the Crimson Tide, it could make this an interesting game. But keep in mind that Bama is seeing crimson red over losing its first game this season. Also, Nick Saban is 9-1 after losses in regular-season games. He won't lose here.
Prediction: Alabama 42, Mississippi State 20
Podcast: Week 8 Preview, Predictions, and Picks Against the Spread
— 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.
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