With so many key matchups for the upcoming game Saturday night between Mississippi State and Alabama, it didn't feel fair to only give you a brief summary of the Alabama team in our usual Wednesday know the foe segment. It's not every week that you get the chance to go up against the #1 team in the nation, so we thought we'd take the opportunity to compare positions between the Bulldogs and the Crimson Tide leading up to Saturday night to let you guys and girls see how our players stack up against the best of the SEC.
We start off today with the Quarterback position: one that in recent years would have been a landslide in favor of Alabama, but may be closer to a draw this year with the emergence of Tyler Russell. Make no mistake though, A.J. McCarron is no slouch of a QB either. It's hard to discount a man who has a National Championship trophy, no matter if he was a game manager type QB for that season or if he was the centerpiece of a high flying passing offense. Those who doubt Russell's abilities should not discount what he has done this season either, however, as the two have, in 2012, put together outstanding seasons that have led both to undefeated starts a little more than halfway into the season. Let's take a look now at how they compare on paper.
Season Stats (via CFBstats.com)
When looking at the stats, its easy to see just how important both quarterbacks are to the success of their respective teams. These numbers are good enough to rank Russell and McCarron 5th and 6th in the league, behind only Tyler Wilson, Johnny Manziel, Aaron Murray, and Tyler Bray. Although Tyler leads the way in yards on the year, McCarron leads in yards per attempt, as he is called on to pass the ball less with a run-first offense. McCarron has nearly 50 less attempts than Russell on the season, averaging 7 attempts less per game.
So what should we make of these numbers? Well, you're definitely not going to distinguish which QB is better from them. We can tell from the numbers that both have been near perfect on the year, with the only INT between them belonging to Russell, which came in a South Alabama game that was never in doubt. By looking at the numbers comparison you can see that Alabama is a more run-based offense, which is nothing new to anyone who has followed the Crimson Tide under Nick Saban. McCarron operates as more of a game manager, running the offense and making the big pass plays when he is called to do so. Russell, in stark contrast from previous seasons, leads a more balanced pass-run attack offense, which is evident by the attempts per game that he has registered so far this year. Despite what we as State fans perceive as a more pass-happy offense in 2012 for State than in previous years, Russell and company are only averaging 3 more pass attempts per game than the 2011 QB unit did, and about 7 more attempts per game than the 2010 team did.
So the next step in the comparison process would be to look at each QB's individual performances, as well as the competition they've faced thus far this season. Let's do that now
Individual Game Stats
|Opponent||Atts||Yds||TDs||Opp. Pass Def. Rank||Opponent||Atts||Yds||TDs||Opp. Pass Def. Rank|
||185||2||30 (FCS Rank)||Michigan||21
|Middle Tennessee St.||21||191||3||93||Tennessee||22||306
I included opposing defenses' pass defense ranking as a good indicator of the skill of the defenses each QB has faced. Excluding FCS opponent JSU, Alabama has faced defenses with an average of a 52 national ranking pass defense wise, while State has faced an average of 74 ranking. Outside of the Tennessee games where both QBs had a great deal of success, the numbers don't necessarily correlate to the ranking of the opponent. These numbers also don't take into account the rushing defense of each opponent, as that would dictate whether or not each team would run the ball more than pass, which then in turn affects the above numbers. As we mentioned above, McCarron manages a more run-first style of offense, therefore his attempts are a good deal lower than Russell's.
What to expect from each on Saturday
I would expect solid play from both QBs on Saturday. Although State QB's have not fared well against Alabama defenses in previous seasons (110 yds passing 2011, 150 in 2010), Tyler Russell is in his first full year as the starter, and has gained confidence to go with his talent that makes him much different than previous MSU quarterbacks. If State wants a chance to win Saturday, they will need perfect play from Russell, with a few big plays mixed in. The Alabama defense leaves no room for error, as the talented Tide D make opponents pay for the tiniest mistakes. If Russell can make the simple throws, manage a decent rushing attack, and make a few big plays as well, State could have a chance to win Saturday. Make no mistake though, State's fate on Saturday night hinges completely on Russell's performance. Tyler Russell will face Alabama's 2nd ranked passing defense Saturday night.
On the Alabama side of things, A.J. McCarron's performance is not as directive to the Tide's potential success against MSU. The tide feature the nation's 20th ranked rushing offense, whose performance generally dictates how their overall offensive performance will go. A.J. McCarron, like Russell, will be called on to be a game manager as always, operating an offense that uses the run and big passing plays to be effective. In contrast to Russell, I believe Alabama can survive Saturday without necessarily getting a great game from A.J.. Although a stout performance from the junior certainly doesn't hurt the Tide's chances, they are more inept to manage getting by on running the ball and defense than State may necessarily be. I am interested to see McCarron and this offense go up against State's touted cornerback duo of Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay. We've heard so much about Banks and Slay this year, and they will get their chance to prove themselves against the #1 team in the country Saturday night. If McCarron has a night against State like he did against Tennessee, this one will be well in hand probably before halftime. But State's chances, in my opinion, hinge more on their ability to stop the rushing attack than McCarron. A.J. McCarron will face Mississippi State's 21st ranked passing defense on Saturday night.