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Mississippi State vs. Alabama Game Preview

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Get ready for the biggest game in Mississippi State football history with our preview of Saturday's #1 Mississippi State (9-0) versus #3 Alabama (8-1) showdown.

Butch Dill

Where

bryant-denny stadium

When

2:30 PM

TV

cbs

What more could you ask for? It doesn't get much better than a top five matchup in November that features two Heisman candidates and has national championship implications.

I've said it before and I won't hesitate to say it again... this is the biggest game in the history of Mississippi State football.

That's if we win the game, of course.

Flashback two years ago to when Mississippi State was 7-0 going to play in Bryant Denny. Bama crushed State 38-10, and the season instantly went downhill from there. The #webelieve campaign quickly backfired.

This year the hashtag going around the Bulldog nation is #StatesAbouttoBeatAlabamaNext. The #1 team in the country also now leads the nation in the longest hashtag.

Hashtags aside, this year's game with Alabama is completely different than the one from two years ago. This Mississippi State team is proven, battle tested, and flat out has better players than that 2012 squad.

It all starts at the quarterback position. Nothing against Tyler Russell, but Dak Prescott is the perfect quarterback for Dan Mullen's offense. He has taken this team to new heights, and this 9-0 start would have never happened without him.

If State is going to win this game, it will have to be on the shoulders of Dak Prescott. There's no way you can convince me Bama loses this game if Dak has an off day. If he comes out and has a game like he had against LSU, Texas A&M, or Auburn, he will quickly jump back ahead of Marcus Mariota as the Heisman front-runner.

Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel both had Heisman moments and all but locked up the trophy when they played Alabama. Both of those games were in Tuscaloosa, by the way.

As Dak will tell you, however, he's not worried about individual awards right now. He wants to do everything he can to help his team win and keep the offense rolling.

That will be easier said than done against an elite Alabama defense on the road. They only give up 89 rushing yards a game, and 275 total yards. All you can say about that is wow.

The reason for that success is elite players at every level of the defense like Alabama typically has year in and year out. From Trey DePriest and Reggie Ragland at linebacker to Landon Collins and Cyrus Jones in the secondary, this defense is full of future NFL starters.

The good news for Mississippi State is that they have the best offense Alabama will face this season. They still lead the SEC with 522 yards per game and continue to be one of the most balanced teams in the country.

It's strength on strength, the number one defense going up against the number one offense. It doesn't get much more exciting than that.

If Mississippi State wants to look for an area to exploit, they should look at what has been Alabama's only weakness on defense over the last couple of years. That weakness is defending a running quarterback.

That doesn't mean Mississippi State should come out and call 30 designed runs for Dak Prescott. No, Alabama will be ready for that. Dak has to improvise when a play breaks down. If receivers are not open and the pocket is collapsing, don't force it, take off and run.

Outside of that, what weakness can you really find on this defense? The best thing MSU can do is mix it up, stay balanced, and throw in a few wrinkles Alabama hasn't seen on film.

If you want to beat an elite team, you need to get the ball in your playmakers' hands as much as possible. In other words, FEED DAK AND J-ROB. I know how difficult it is to run on Bama's defense, but you have to stick to it. Too many times in the past, MSU gives up on the run too easy.

Robinson doesn't have to have a career day, but he needs to find a way to rush for 90 or so yards in this game. That will be tough considering whole teams have averaged that number against the Tide. The threat of Dak running the ball should free up Robinson to have a few good runs.

They cannot be one-dimensional and expect to win this game. Even if they are not able to run the ball, they have to keep trying just to keep the defense honest. If Dak has to throw 40 times, it will be a long day.

Speaking of the passing game, the De'Runnya Wilson from earlier this season needs to show back up. The return of Jameon Lewis should help his cause. Those two need to make an impact Saturday.

The best approach to pass the ball will be getting the ball out of Dak's hands quick. State's line is certainly capable of holding up, but it wouldn't be smart to try too many passes down the field. First drives of games where the plays are always scripted usually work to perfection for MSU. The one common factor of all first drives has been plays that get the ball out of the quarterback's hands in a hurry.

Any offensive success won't mean much if we can't slow down Alabama from scoring as well. That will be easier said than done, as they have one of the country's most dynamic playmakers in Amari Cooper.

Cooper is easily the best wide receiver Mississippi State has faced all season. He averages 135 yards a game and already has ten touchdowns. His ability to get open down the field and make yards after the catch make him special.

Say what you want about the guy throwing him the ball, but quarterback Blake Sims has been clutch when he needs to be. The drive at the end of the fourth quarter last week to send the game into overtime was a thing of beauty from Sims. He's no AJ McCarron, but he's a quarterback that is capable of leading them to victory every single week.

The best thing State can do to slow down Amari Cooper is let Will Redmond cover him all night long, plain and simple. Redmond has proved all season he's the best corner on the team, and I wouldn't trust anyone else to consistently cover Cooper. No offense to Calhoun or Love who are both great corners, but there's no reason not to have our best defender lined up across their best receiver.

Want to know an interesting stat about Cooper? He has 1,215 receiving yards this season, and the next closest guy on the team has 279. That clearly shows he's the centerpiece of their offense. If you can somehow find a way to shut him down like Arkansas did, you have a great chance of winning the game.

When it comes to the running game, Alabama's depth has taken a hit over the past several weeks. Kenyan Drake is out for the season, and TJ Yeldon injured his ankle last week against LSU. He is expected to play this week, but you have to wonder if he will be at 100 percent.

The guy Mississippi State will get a dose off the most will likely be Derrick Henry. His stats are similar to Yeldon's, and Henry is a more physical runner. I'm not so sure that State wouldn't be better off seeing Yeldon more, especially with him being hurt.

Overall Bama has been good running the ball this year, but they haven't been on the same level they usually are. Granted, a lot of that may have to do with Lane Kiffin's play calling, but I like State's chances of stopping Alabama's rushing attack.

Alabama's offensive line has been good but not great this year. Injuries have hurt them, and that has forced them to have several different lineups throughout the season.

That gives reason to believe Mississippi State's defensive line could have a big day, and they will need to. If they can create pressure with four and not have to blitz too much, that will be huge. Preston Smith needs to have one of his monster games, get a couple of sacks, and stay in Sims' grill all day long.

Bama will see the film and see the 300 passing yards a game given up by MSU. They will take their shots down the field on Saturday, and the MSU secondary will have to be up to the challenge. If they are, I really like MSU's chances of keeping Alabama to 17 or so points.

We've seen this team get up for big games, and we've seen them sleep walk through the weaker opponents. Hopefully they look back at that game in Baton Rouge and draw confidence from that. They proved they are capable of winning on the road when nobody gave them a chance. We live in a "what have you done lately" kind of world, and the top ten wins from earlier this season are a thing of the past.

Mississippi State is one of the least respected number one teams that there's ever been. That would all change with a win Saturday. We're the #1 team in the land and still considered an underdog. Would we want it any other way?

Numbers to Know

165.11

The difference between what Mississippi State averages in rushing yards per game (254.89, 3rd in SEC) and what Alabama's defense allows per game (89.78, 1st in SEC).  One of those two will obviously give on Saturday, and it will likely determine the outcome of the game.

66

Mississippi State plays of 20 yards or more this season.  That leads the conference, and if Mississippi State is going to be able to win on Saturday, they will need a few more big plays.  A few yards here and a few yards there won't work; State will need to be aggressive in attacking the Alabama defense downfield and spreading them out to open up the run game.  Having a healthy Jameon (and full compliment of receivers) will hopefully help that cause.

0%

How much of a chance the national media is giving Mississippi State to win Saturday.  Despite what the Bulldogs have done so far this season -- wins over LSU, Texas A&M, and Auburn consecutively -- they are being widely dismissed as not even belonging on the field with Alabama on Saturday.  Despite being #1, MSU is clearly in the underdog role on Saturday, but the good news is that's usually how they like it.