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Mississippi State meets No. 2 Alabama for Halloween showdown

Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. CT.

NCAA Football: Texas A&M at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The Mississippi State football team will be taking on the No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide Saturday evening at 6 p.m. CT inside Bryant-Denny Stadium. The contest will be televised by ESPN.

The Bulldogs (1-3) are looking for a bright spot to add to a season that has gone downhill since defeating LSU 44-34 in Week 1.

The Crimson Tide (5-0) is looking to keep things rolling and give head coach Nick Saban a victory for his 69th birthday.

Saban is 48-2 in the month of October as Alabama’s coach, including an undefeated record at home. Saban is also on a 94-game winning streak against unranked opponents.

This is the 105th meeting between the two programs. Alabama has won the last 12 meetings. Mississippi State’s last victory in Tuscaloosa was Nov. 4, 2006, by a score of 24-16.

Head coach Mike Leach has faced Alabama once in his career when he took his No. 18 Texas Tech team to the the 2006 Cotton Bowl to face the No. 13 Crimson Tide. Alabama won 13-10.

Saturday’s showdown will feature a Mississippi State defense that ranks No. 1 in the Southeastern Conference against an Alabama offense that ranks No 1 in the SEC. More specifically, the matchup features the SEC’s top pass defense against the league’s top pass offense. The Bulldogs are allowing just 192.3 yards per game through the air, while the Crimson Tide rank third nationally with an average of 397.8 yards passing per game.

MSU has recorded a takeaway in 30 of its last 33 games and is currently on a streak of seven straight games with either an interception or fumble recovery. The defense is led by senior linebacker Erroll Thompson, who has tallied 39 tackles.

Alabama redshirt junior quarterback Mac Jones has passed for 1,905 yards with 12 touchdowns and two interceptions. He earned SEC Offensive Player of the Week honors for his 387-yard passing performance in last week’s 48-17 win over Tennessee.

Alabama will be without its top receiver in junior wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, who suffered a season-ending fractured ankle, but the Crimson Tide still has dangerous weapons in senior wide receiver DeVonta Smith and sophomore wide receiver John Metchie III. Smith has hauled in 45 receptions for 556 yards receiving and four touchdowns, while Metchie has made 21 catches for 499 yards and three touchdowns. Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Slade Bolden filled in for the injured Waddle last week and caught six passes for 94 yards.

Senior running back Najee Harris is the “bell cow” of the Crimson Tide rushing attack. Harris has carried the rock 103 times for 595 yards and 14 touchdowns. Alabama has only played five games so far, but Harris’ 14 rushing touchdowns are the most through six team games by an Alabama player over the last 30 seasons. The most rushing touchdowns scored by any FBS player through six games of a season is 22 by Ricky Williams in 1998.

While Alabama’s offense is rolling, Mississippi State’s offense enters the game with plenty of questions. Quarterbacks K.J. Costello and Will Rogers opened the week “neck and neck” for the starting job, and Leach hasn’t indicated who will start.

Both quarterbacks have passed for more interceptions than touchdowns. Costello has thrown 10 and Rogers has thrown two, though Rogers has had a much smaller sample size.

Rogers was 15-of-18 passing against Texas A&M and, unlike Costello, didn’t throw a pick in that game. Rogers’ 83.3 completion percentage set a Bulldog record (minimum 15 attempts) in that game.

Leach confirmed that the Bulldog offense has lost junior wide receiver Tyrell Shavers, and it would appear as though the Bulldogs also lost senior running back Kylin Hill. Leach didn’t officially confirm that, but he said he heard Hill is opting out of the season to prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft.

As for who MSU does have, freshman running back Jo’quavious Marks leads the team with 89 yards rushing and redshirt senior wide receiver Osirus Mitchell leads the team with 287 yards receiving and two touchdowns.

The Alabama defense, which is led by senior linebacker Dylan Moses with 43 tackles, has allowed 427 yards per game.

ESPN’s broadcast will include Sean McDonough (play-by-play), Todd Blackledge (analyst), Todd McShay (analyst) and sideline reporter Molly McGrath.