Peeps, the Clash of the Titans has arrived. Saturday the #1 team in the land, the MSU Bulldogs, will answer the call of Denny Chimes in Tuscaloosa when they travel to play the #5 Alabama Crimson Tide. In all likelihood, this game will determine the SEC West winner. What will the Dawgs need to do in order to leave Tuscaloosa undefeated? Here's what I think:
1. Run. The. "Darn." Football. You knew this was coming. To beat Bama, the Dawgs will need to run the football effectively. The Tide have been an offensive machine at home. Limiting their possessions could be big. Plus, I anticipate a physical game. In order to win, State will have to be the bigger bully. Punch Bama in the mouth and keep punching. Unleash the big fellas up front and let them hammer on Bama's DL. If State can run effectively, it will wear on Bama's D. Force them to tackle Dak Prescott and Josh Robinson at least 40 times. Both of those guys need to have a minimum of 20 rushing attempts at the end of the game for State to win.
2. Stop the Run: Football 101 - If you can run the ball and stop the run, you'll have a great chance of winning. Despite being much improved in the passing game this season, the Tide is still built on running the football. While everyone hates seeing players injured, not having Kenyon Drake is an advantage for State. And it also appears that TJ Yeldon may be limited Saturday. The bulk of the carries should fall to Derrick Henry. Normally a 3rd string RB wouldn't scare you, but Henry isn't your typical 3rd stringer. He'd start for the vast majority of SEC teams. The guy is an absolute hammer between the tackles and has the speed to take it to the house. The Dawgs will also need to contain Blake Sims, who's a mobile QB. You don't want to let him scramble and pick up first downs to keep the chains moving. Force him to stay in the pocket and beat you throwing.
3. Be PHYSICAL: I alluded to it earlier, but I expect this game to be arguably the most physical game of the season. Both teams have big, nasty offensive lines and love to run the football. Both teams have massive defensive lines built to stop the run and LBs that will hammer you. Frankly, this will be a day where you better man up, buckle your chin strap real tight, and be ready to HIT. If you get a chance, lay out the WR coming across the middle. Crush that pursuing LB that didn't have his head on a swivel chasing the play from the backside. Play until the echo of the whistle and show no mercy. Controlling the trenches will be imperative. Walk that fine line between being nasty and being dirty. If you don't, you lose.
4. Slow Down Amari Cooper: Let's talk about the elephant in the room - our DBs versus Amari Cooper. I'll make no bones about it: Cooper is the best WR in college football. He's big, physical, fast, and has hands of glue. No one can cover him one-on-one, especially not all day, so don't bother trying. Keep Will Redmond or Taveze Calhoun on him at all times and give them help over the top with a safety. Cooper is going to make some plays no matter what we do. He's just that good. The key will be limiting his big plays. And don't let him rip off a huge catch-and-run for a TD. Keeping him out of the endzone at all would be the best imaginable outcome. As long as he's making his plays in the middle of the field, we can live with it.
5. No Turnovers: Captain Obvious on this one, but it must be said. If we lose the turnover battle on Saturday, we lose the game. We must hang on to the ball at all times. No cheap INTs. No fumbles. Find some stick 'em if you have to, but DO NOT give Bama extra possessions and let them gain momentum. Even more importantly, don't turn it over in the endzone or redzone, costing valuable points.
6. Tackling: We MUST tackle well on Saturday to win. Henry is a load and gets YAC. We've got to limit that as best we can by being fundamentally sound and wrapping him up. Don't worry about the big hit or going for the strip. Wrap up and get him on the ground. Same for Cooper. Wrap up and don't let him get RAC yards. If he catches it, drop him at the spot. Missing tackles on Cooper or Yeldon can turn a 10 yard gain into a 65 yard TD. To repeat: Stay fundamentally sound and WRAP UP.
7. Mental Toughness: This game is probably going to be a tight, back-and-forth affair. We can't lose our composure. No pre-snap penalties. No stupid dead ball personal fouls. And let's just go ahead and say it right now: We'll be playing against 16 on Saturday. Don't expect to get any calls. In fact, expect to have calls go against you. Expect bogus calls. Whatever happens, remain composed and focused. Don't give the refs any excuse to throw a flag, because they will. When we get a bad spot or Bama gets a 1st down one link shy or we have a TD called back, keep playing. A short memory is going to be critical. Just control what you can and let the rest take care of itself.
That's what I think we need to win in Tuscaloosa. I expect this game to be an absolute war. And frankly, we can't put ourselves into a position of having to worry about a close call at the end of the game. We must be ahead by enough by the mid-4th quarter that officiating can't effect the outcome. Ask LSU how that worked out for them last Saturday in Death Valley. Bottom line, we have to be the aggressor on Saturday. Take it to Bama and don't let up until it's over. Just keep punching.
In Mullen We Trust,