PREVIEW ALABAMA VS MISSISSIPPI STATE
TUSCALOOSA– If ever a game would decide the implications of the college football playoff, look no further than Saturday’s matchup in Tuscaloosa. The Mississippi State Bulldogs will travel just over the border to face the Alabama Crimson Tide in one of the biggest games of the season.
The Alabama Crimson (8-1, 5-1 SEC) are coming off of an incredible comeback win in Baton Rouge over the LSU Tigers. Although an impressive night win in Death Valley may boost Alabama’s confidence, the Crimson Tide have struggled every game after LSU since Coach Nick Saban came to Tuscaloosa. While on paper this might be an easy win for Alabama, they might be their own biggest enemy come this Saturday afternoon.
The Mississippi State Bulldogs (9-0, 5-0 SEC) might be college football’s biggest story line this season, and have a chance to define themselves as the top team in the country. Led by quarterback Dak Prescott, the Bulldogs have managed to win 12 consecutive games and are the number one seed in the country. With Dan Mullen on the rise as the coach of the year, the Bulldogs are sure to make this one of the top games to watch.
As College Gameday comes to town, this game has multiple implications, but none bigger than one representing the SEC in the playoff. Who will rise? Who will fall: let’s dive in and see everything you need to know for Saturdays big game.
THINGS TO KNOW
>Date: Saturday, November 15
>Time: 2:30 pm CST
>Where: Bryant Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, Alabama
>Radio: Crimson Tide Sports Network 99.1 FM
>Vegas Line: Alabama by 7
KEYS TO VICTORY: ALABAMA
> SCORE EARLY
Since Nick Saban has stepped foot in Tuscaloosa, Alabama has always struggled in the game after LSU. Some say because the team uses all of their energy to beat the Tigers. Some say they are just cursed. Well, whatever the reason, the Crimson Tide cannot do that Saturday afternoon. Quarterback Blake Sims has too many weapons to throw to to not get an early score. Not to mention, the running game should be as strong as ever. If Alabama wants to make a statement, they need to score early.
> CONTAIN DAK PRESCOTT
One thing Alabama is known for is a fabulous front seven run defense. Possibly the only thing Mississippi State is know for is quarterback Dak Prescott. Since the start of the season, it has been almost completely impossible for any team to stop the Louisiana native. In nine games, he has not had less than 50 yards rushing and 200 yards passing. Alabama cannot allow him to have a big game like he did against Auburn if they expect to come out on top.
KEYS TO VICTORY: MISSISSIPPI STATE
> HANDLE THE HYPE
As many people know, Starkville isn’t the biggest town in the state of Mississippi, so the Bulldogs have never been used to this type of spotlight. In a game like this, the Bulldogs are probably not used to seeing this many fans screaming in an atmosphere like Bryant Denny. Alabama, on the other hand, has been used to this hype for years. Last time Mississippi State was ranked, they were defeated in Bryant Denny 38-7. The Bulldogs finally have a chance at a redo: and they better make the most of it.
>LET DAK PRESCOTT SHINE
If there is one thing Alabama has suffered with this season, it is been working with a mobile quarterback. In fact, let’s pause: Alabama has had trouble with a Heisman caliber quarterback. From Cam Newton to Johnny Manziel, both men have led their teams to big upsets in Tuscaloosa, basically sealing the Heisman. While Prescott is ins high contention to win the prestigious award, a phenomenal performance against Alabama may seal the deal. The Bulldogs do not have to win, but Prescott must shine.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: ALABAMA
After nine tackles at LSU last week, Reggie Ragland has emerged as the alpha dog in Alabama’s defense. Not only does he lead the team in tackles at 67, but he has stepped up and filled the position that CJ Mosely left behind. Ragland will have on job on Saturday: contain Prescott. If Ragland can lead the charge of Alabama’s great run defense, he might be able to force Prescott to make a mistake that could decide the game. Let’s just hope that he can keep the team’s spirits up…. unlike his pants.
DeAndrew White may have had only one of the biggest touchdowns in Alabama history last week. But also, he has stepped up as a receiver with attitude. In an offense that mainly passes the ball to Amari Cooper, White is considerably underused. The Bulldogs will be all over Cooper come Saturday, leaving the door open for White to shine. He may not receive any touchdowns, but he will be the reason Alabama winds up in the red zone 9/10.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:MISSISSIPPI STATE
Strong, athletic, explosive; these are the qualities a head coach looks for in an inside linebacker. Well Dan Mullen hit the jackpot when he stumbled upon Benardrick McKinney. The kid is a freak, who cannot only have explosive speed in pass defense, but as well against the run. The junior will have a touch time taking on blocks from offensive lineman and Derrick Henry, but if McKinney can get passed it, Alabama is in for a rude awakening.
One key element Mississippi State lost hasn’t been able to quite replace were cornerbacks like Darius Slay Johnthan Banks. Well, unfortunately, when your team plays against the number on wide receiver in the country, one of your cornerbacks will end up being on this list: just for fun let’s pick Jamerson Love. Love started every game last season, yet struggle to make any serious impact. In this season, he has 38 tackles and three interceptions. He will have to play nearly perfect against Amari Cooper if they plan on containing Alabama’s offense.
THE X- FACTOR: ALABAMA
>Blake Sims and his passing
Blake Sims may not have been Alabama’s first choice come August, but he has grown into an Alabama hero with wins like LSU this past week. One of the key reasons Alabama was able to drive down the field and win in Death Valley, was Blake Sims’s passing ability. Mississippi State’s defense can handle Alabama’s offensive line just as well as LSU did, so Sims better be ready to move his feet. If Sims plans to stay in the pocket long, he is in for a rude awakening. He must be ready to throw on the run, and, more importantly, turn up field if NO ONE is open.
THE X-FACTOR: MISSISSIPPI STATE
Not everyone in the country may know how Mississippi State is such a powerful team. But, everyone knows the name Dak Prescott. His story is one to remember, and his work ethic and playing style is one nobody can mimic. Earlier in the week, Alabama coach Nick Saban compared him to Tim Tebow. While that is a mighty fine compliment, Prescott must play better than Tebow if he wants to keep the Bulldogs in first place after Saturday afternoon. Prescott ranks in the top ten in total offense, pass efficiency, and points scored. But, more importantly, Prescott is the leader the Bulldogs need. He must do all that and more if he expects to win this week.
This will be a close game, until the final quarter. Alabama is coming off of a physical hangover against LSU, and it probably doesn’t help that Mississippi State just played Tennessee-Martin. Still, Alabama has proven they can beat anyone this year in Bryant Denny. That story can be said again come Sunday morning.
Expect both quarterbacks to be hot and ready from the get-go, each with a first quarter rushing touchdown. From then on out, it will be up to the defenses to hold their own in the trenches. However, Alabama should have a little bit of a chip on their shoulder after being denied a spot in the top four playoff rankings this week. Led by a late interception by Landon Collins, Alabama will find a way to pull away late and make this game a lot less close than fans expect.
Prediction- Alabama 34 Mississippi State 17
Cole Thompson is the Alabama beat writer for WVUA FM. Follow him on twitter at @ColeThompson32