Alabama (8-1) vs. Mississippi State (7-2) 3:30 pm
Alabama is 5-0 since 2010 against the Mississippi State Bulldogs and have won by an average of 17.2 points per game. Last year in Tuscaloosa the Tide won 25-20, however, they led 19-0 at the half and were outscored 20-6 in the second half by the Bulldogs.
The Crimson Tide are coming off an impressive home victory over second ranked LSU 30-16. Alabama was able to run at will against the Tigers with running back Derick Henry rushing for 210 yards with 3 touchdowns. On the year, the Crimson Tide is averaging 33.1 points per game and have been balanced rushing for 195 yards per game along with passing for 227 yards per game. Quarterback Jake Coker has been able to valuable big game experience and has showed maturity in the Tides biggest games this season. Coker is completing 64.9% of his passes for 1,807 yards with 11 touchdowns and 7 interceptions and will need to make plays this Saturday for the team to get the road victory. Alabama has relied on a “heavy” offensive line that has been able to wear down opposing defensive fronts in the fourth quarter and look for the offense to start fast on the road to put the pressure on Bulldogs quarterback Dak Prescott to respond. Running back Derrick Henry is a Heisman Trophy candidate after last week’s performance is will be counted on to help the Crimson Tide dictate the tempo of the game. Henry is bruising between the tackles runner that punishes opposing defenders with his physical running style. Henry leads the team with 1,254 yards averaging 5.7 yards per carry with 17 touchdowns. If Henry is able to have success early on, look for Coker to open up off of play action against the Bulldogs secondary. Wide receiver Calvin Ridley has been the big play threat for the offense and leads the team with 52 receptions for 576 yards with 3 touchdowns. Teammate ArDarius Stewart is second on the team with 34 receptions for 378 yards with 2 scores. Both players have speed to take the top of the defense and loosen up opposing fronts because of their ability to stretch the field. Look for offensive coordinator Lane Kiffen to get the ball into Ridley early on with crossing routes over the middle of the field. This will force Mississippi State out of crowing the line of scrimmage and could open up the running lanes for Henry later in the game. The offensive line has been average in pass protection and has allowed 16 sacks through 9 games. Alabama has struggled when they have been forced to play from behind or are being put into predictable third down situations.
The strength of the team is the Alabama defense which is allowing 16.3 points per game and is one of the hardest defenses to run on in college football surrendering 75 rushing yards per game. Last week, the Crimson Tide held the LSU Tigers to a total of 182 yards in the game and contain Heisman trophy front runner Leonard Fournette to a total of 31 yards on the ground. The Crimson Tide possess big body defensive Bouncy Castle tackles that clog running lanes and force double teams which allow linebacker (leading tackler 73 total tackles) Reggie Ragland to fill running gaps. Ragland is a big and physical linebacker that can run sideline to sideline which puts alot of pressure on opposing offensive lines. Alabama has a good secondary that is yielding 189 passing yards per game and is led by veteran safety Eddie Jackson. Jackson leads the team with 5 interceptions and the Tide has been able to force turnovers at critical times to change the momentum of key games this season (Georgia and Texas A&M). The unit will need to be aggressive and force turnovers on the road. Alabama is +3 in turnover margin and has recorded 29 sacks on the season. Defensively, the Tide must be able to keep Dak Prescott in the pocket and force him to throw over the top of the defense.
Many experts picked the Bulldogs to be at the bottom of the SEC West because of the total starters lost from last season (15 starters on both offense and defense entering 2015). However, the team has responded and happens to be playing their best football at the end of the season. Mississippi State is averaging 34.7 points per game is led by their dynamic dual threat quarterback Dak Prescott. Prescott has single handily taken the leadership role of this team and leads the unit in both rushing and passing. The Bulldogs are averaging 147 rushing yards per game and have thrown for 296 yards per game this year. Prescott has completed 66.7% of his passes for 2,351 yards with 18 touchdowns and one interceptions. On the ground, he has recorded 418 yards with 7 scores. Prescott has matured this season and has reduced the mistakes in the passing game. Last year down the stretch, Prescott threw for 11 interceptions in 5 games at the end of the season and did not make good decisions that put his team in a position to win. However, in order to get this victory on Saturday, the Bulldogs will need Prescott to be patient and take what the Crimson Tide defense gives early on. It will be critical for the offense to score early to keep the crowd involved in the game and put the pressure on Alabama. In last year’s games, head coach Dan Mullen chose not to run Prescott until the second half when the team trailed 19-0. However, look for a different game plan on Saturday and look for Prescott to be utilized on read options just like Josh Dobbs did a few weeks ago. Wide receivers DeRuynna Wilson and Fred Ross are solid pass catchers that are not afraid to make plays over the middle on dig routes. Both players have combined for 88 receptions for 1,174 yards with 10 touchdowns.
The Bulldogs are allowing 17.2 points per game and are giving up 167 yards on the ground along with 201 yards through the air to their opponents this season. The front seven will be challenged early on and must be able to shut down the run and force Jake Coker to beat them over the top. On the season, the unit has registered 29 sacks through the team’s first nine games with linebacker Richie Brown leading the team with 5.5 total sacks and 73 total tackles. Turnovers will be key to the victory for the Bulldogs and the team is +1 in turnover margin on the season. Look for the defense to blitz early on and play aggressive man to man coverage to challenge Coker. This was the game plan last year and the Bulldogs played very well on the road. The unit cannot sit back and play zone and allow Alabama to dictate the tempo from an offensive perspective. Mississippi State will want to bring pressure off of the edge and utilize the speed of their linebackers to beat the Crimson Tide offensive line which will close running lanes for Derrick Henry.
Listen to Joe’s show on Yahoo Sports Radio every Saturday morning from 10-11am EST at www.streamysr.com.
Joseph Lisi a former ABC Sports college football researcher, is the owner of www.GOFORTHE2.COM. He is a member if the FWAA (Football Writers Association Of America),Maxwell Football Club and is currently the content editor atwww.2FiveSports.com.He contributes regularly to www.Sid-Rosenberg.com and has been a featured guest every Tuesday night from 10:30-11:30pm EST on Yahoo Sports Radio With Ken Thomson(www.sportsxradio.com).
Joe has been featured on the FNTSY Sports Network and The Sid Rosenberg Sports Radio Show 640AM Sports (South Florida). You can follow him on Twitter: @Goforthe2.
Joe has a weekly radio show on www.blogtalkradio.com with former Georgia Bulldogs WR Corey Allen called: