As seen in Baton Rouge, Alabama is a well-oiled machine that just keeps rolling atop the rankings. Who’s to say any team will be favored against the Tide at this point? However, Mississippi State does possess what may serve as Bama headman Nick Saban’s kryptonite.
Though each may not guarantee a win over Saban and company, a mobile quarterback and stingy defense have proven to frustrate Bama over the years. Take last year’s heartbreaker in Starkville. While it was a bitter and painful loss, the Bulldogs threw the kitchen sink at the Tide and took them the distance. In that 31-24 heartbreaker, Mississippi State exposed Bama, ultimately giving the maroon and white faithful reason to believe this year’s squad may do the same, or even more.
Dual threat quarterback Nick Fitzgerald and arguably the SEC’s best defense are hungry and unfazed. Fitzgerald will be the most difficult quarterback for Saban to figure out. In addition, the Bulldogs’ defensive front has the best shot to stop Tua.
While Fitzgerald has not been his usual self in every game this season, he has shown up as of late. Over his last two games, Fitzgerald has completed over 60 percent of his passes and has thrown for 484 yards and six touchdowns. He has also rushed for 109 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, having averaged over five yards per carry. He will have to post over 100 yards as a passer and rusher if the Bulldogs wish to upset the Tide in Tuscaloosa.
Make no mistake that Fitzgerald will be under duress all game long, as Bama’s front is no joke either with sophomore Quinnen Williams leading the way. Williams posted 10 total tackles and 2.5 sacks against LSU, having literally taken down the Tigers himself. A versatile lineman with a motor and a half, Williams will have his eyes set on Fitzgerald until the clock hits triple zeros.
As for Mississippi State’s defense, we all know what their strength is. Defensive end Montez Sweat and tackle Jeffrey Simmons, both likely to be playing on Sundays, must be at a level higher than they have played all season, ultimately ready to take down Tua. If Sweat can set the edge and get to him early as well as Simmons being able to collapse the pocket, look for Bama to struggle mightily.
Sweat has recorded 33 total tackles along with 6.5 sacks and a forced fumble thus far. He has been on point and is likely to increase those numbers. An end with a quick first step has also been a roadblock for Bama quarterbacks. Sweat is the cream of the crop in that regard, as the matchup between he and Tua will be a showdown.
Though Simmons is a transcendent talent, his low self esteem has limited him at times, having resulted in penalties. That said, Simmons, like Williams can change a game. With 41 total tackles on the year, he has been unreal, as his season high of 10 came against LSU.
Fitzgerald, Sweat, and Simmons, all household names will have something to say. But how will the Tide respond? We all saw LSU hold them down in the first half...until 16-0 happened. The real question is how big a blow the Bulldogs can deliver from kickoff.