Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Starkville, Miss., are separated by only 83 miles across U.S. Route 82. As a result, the Alabama Crimson Tide and Mississippi State Bulldogs go back a long way. This Saturday, they'll meet for a noon kickoff in Tuscaloosa. The Tide are rolling steadily, but Mississippi State is coming off a big win of its own.
The Bulldogs (4-5, 2-3 SEC) beat No. 4 Texas A&M last week in Stark Vegas to put a positive touch on an otherwise rough season. Besides that upset victory, State has only one other SEC win (South Carolina). Its other two victories were relatively close triumphs over UMass and Samford. A bowl game doesn't look likely for the Bulldogs this season, but it's still not out of the question.
Alabama comes into this one at 9-0 and ranked No. 1 in the country. There is a fair amount of people who believe this is the best team head coach Nick Saban has had in Tuscaloosa — and that's saying a lot. At the least, it may be his most talented team. Alabama's last four games include a 19-point road win over Arkansas, a 39-point road win over Tennessee, a 19-point win over Texas A&M, and a 10-point win over LSU at night in Death Valley. To say the Crimson Tide are rolling is a bit of an understatement.
Saturday's meeting between Alabama and Mississippi State will be No. 100 in the series. The Tide have a whopping advantage overall, with a 78-18-3 all-time series lead. State has had more success in recent memory but still hasn't beaten the Crimson Tide since taking back-to-back games in 2006-07. Alabama won last year's meeting 31-6 in Starkville.
Mississippi State at Alabama
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 12 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Alabama -29
Three Things to Watch
1. Alabama's Running Game
Between quarterback Jalen Hurts and running backs Damien Harris, Josh Jacobs and Bo Scarbrough, Alabama has been absolutely lethal on the ground. The Tide already have amassed more than 2,300 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground. They ran at will on Ole Miss, piling up 334 rushing yards and had an even bigger day in Knoxville, plowing over the Volunteers for 409 yards. Even against a stout LSU front seven last week, Alabama had 216 yards on the ground. It's always been part of the bread and butter for the Tide, but now it's evolved, and it may be better than ever. Mississippi State does have the SEC's No. 6 rush defense. We'll see if it is good enough to hold up for four quarters against the Crimson Tide.
2. Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald
Speaking of rush defense, Alabama is ranked No. 1 in that category — not just in the SEC but in all of college football. And the thing is, it's not even close. Alabama is giving up only 66 yards per game on the ground and has allowed only three rushing touchdowns this season. But this week Alabama will face an x-factor in Fitzgerald. He is the Bulldogs' leading rusher, with 839 yards on the ground and eight touchdowns this season. He leads the SEC statistically among rushing quarterbacks with 93 yards per game. Historically, Alabama has struggled with running quarterbacks. It's the only tried and true method of beating the Tide. Fitzgerald's escapability could be a factor in this game. However, also keep in mind that Alabama leads the SEC with 37 sacks.
3. Bama QB Jalen Hurts vs. Bulldogs Secondary
Alabama has a pretty decent running quarterback of its own. Hurts has 635 yards on the ground and 10 rushing touchdowns, in addition to nearly 1,700 passing yards and 12 more scores. Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has done a good job of keeping Hurts out of high-pressure situations for the most part and, as a true freshman, Hurts has been about as good as you could ask when it comes to mastering the offense. He hasn't proven to be a major threat through the air yet, but this game could be an opportunity for him to show off. While Alabama always will rely on its running game, the fact that Mississippi State has the SEC's worst pass defense could provide Hurts some new opportunities. The Bulldogs have given up 33 pass plays of more than 20 yards this season.
Mississippi State is probably good enough to make some plays on the ground and hold up for a while in this game, especially with Alabama coming off a physical bout with LSU. The question is whether the Bulldogs will be able to complement that in the passing game to stay balanced and keep the Alabama defense on its toes. This Alabama defense is good, and the more games it plays, the better it looks. Mississippi State has some momentum with the win over Texas A&M, but it's hard to envision the Bulldogs keeping pace with Bama for four quarters. I think Alabama will pull ahead easily after a relatively slow start.