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Week 7 X-Factors: Mississippi State vs. Alabama

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This week’s breakdown of which players will make a huge impact for both teams.

NCAA Football: Mississippi State at Texas A&M Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

As preparations begin for this week’s matchup, Mississippi State will be looking to shock the world again as the Bulldogs try to pull off back-to-back upsets as they take on the fifth-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide. The Tide are coming off a 41-38 loss to Texas A&M on Saturday and will be looking to come into Starkville, Mississippi, and bounce back after the loss.

Both the Bulldogs and Tide now find themselves in a matchup that could change the momentum of their seasons respectively. These teams will look to some of their star players to make impact plays throughout the night.

Let’s do a breakdown of who I think these X-factors will be for each team.

For Mississippi State, I believe the defense is going to be the difference maker in the game. It is evident that Alabama struggles offensively when its running attack is contained and players like redshirt senior running back Brian Robinson Jr. are held at bay, just like he was by Texas A&M’s defense.

I think Mississippi State junior linebacker Jett Johnson will have a big day on the defensive side of the ball. The 6-foot-2, 235-pounder has really come into his own throughout this season and will have ample amounts of opportunities to show he is one of the best players on this tenacious defense.

Staying on the defensive side, we cannot forget about the ball-hawking sophomore cornerback Emmanuel Forbes. Forbes is a playmaker, and it has shown in his young career for the Bulldogs. I suspect Forbes will be following junior wide receiver Jameson Williams, Williams is the Tides’ leading receiver and is coming off a 10-reception game against the Aggies. Forbes’ ability to lockdown the Tides’ leading receptionist will allow the defensive front to get pressure on Alabama sophomore quarterback Bryce Young and force him into mistakes.

While the defense is going to have to play one of its best performances of the year, the guy on this Bulldogs team that will undoubtedly need to have a week like he did the last time the Bulldogs were on the turf is sophomore QB Will Rogers.

Rogers tore up the Aggie secondary two Saturdays ago. The Aggies, who have a statistically better scoring defense than the Tide, got exposed by Rogers’ ability to be patient, make reads and throw accurately. Alabama head coach Nick Saban, who also coaches the secondary for the Tide, will be sure to be mask coverages and test Rogers’ ability to be patient and read through his progressions.

Rogers will need to display the ability to go over the top and force the safeties to play back. I anticipate Rogers will test corners like sophomore Brian Branch with favorable matchups on the sidelines. Coming off a great performance, facing a secondary who will be tested after struggling last week, and a night game inside Davis Wade Stadium, the stage is set for Rogers to put on a show.

The Crimson Tide are going to come out running angry, and I mean that both figuratively and physically. I anticipate the running game will be staple of the Tides’ offensive attack. Robinson is the workhorse of this team and he just another one of those big running backs that the Tide have every single year. He has already eclipsed 500 yards on the season, with half a dozen touchdowns all while averaging almost 5.5 yards per carry. State’s defense will have to dominate between the tackles to stop Robinson.

Staying on the offensive side, Young will need to prove if he is the man for the job. A Heisman hopeful early on in the season, Young had a lackluster performance against the Aggies. He completed 28 of 48 passes for 369 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.

While that might not seem like terrible numbers, that will not cut it against a top Southeastern Conference defense like Mississippi State. If the running game can get going for the Tide, I can see a lot of play-action scenarios and deep shots taken throughout the game.

For the better half of almost two decades, Alabama has been synonymous with the term “elite defense.” That is still true to this day, and it comes in the form of sophomore linebacker Will Anderson Jr.

Anderson is a 6-foot-4, 243-pounder who has already 39 tackles and is third in the nation for tackles for loss. Anderson lines up as outside edge rusher and will be tasked with shutting down sweeps, quarterback scrambling and tunnel screens that MSU loves to run.

With every game on the line for the Tide moving forward and MSU coming off a huge win, two weeks of preparation for the Bulldogs and a night game in one of college football’s best atmospheres, this could be prime for the Bulldogs to stun the Tide again and finally get the best of the Tide for the first time since 2007.