Today’s game: No. 13 MSU (7-0, 3-0 SEC) at No. 1 Alabama (7-0, 4-0), 7:30 p.m., ESPN (Brad Nessler play-by-play, Todd Blackledge analyst, Holly Rowe sideline), XM 85, Sirius 85.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. | Well, it’s finally here.
The game we’ve all been pointing to for months will happen with a national audience looking on, most of them wondering if this MSU team is for real. Vegas still has Alabama as a big favorite – 22 points, which is down two points from where the line has been most of the week. State fans have no use for the oddsmakers, and you’ve likely noticed the viral “We Believe” campaign that’s dominated the social networks the last few days.
In fact, you can read about that in today’s Journal. The whole thing got started on Twitter when Shelby Balius, president of the MSU student association, used the #WeBelieve hashtag and attached a picture of a large sign that read, “We Believe. 8-0.” I spoke with Balius for my story, and she was pleasantly surprised at how the whole thing took off.
“Seeing the tweets and seeing all the signs in person is one of those special feelings that we only get as a Bulldog family that we can instill in our players and instill in our fans that, win or lose tomorrow, we’re going to have a great time,” she said.
• Now, as for the game itself, get yourself ready by reading our GameDay section. Be sure to follow me on Twitter for updates throughout the game. I may not be as responsive as normal to your replies, because I’ll be constantly working on three stories as the game goes on. Deadline issues will also make postgame tricky, and I can’t guarantee how much I’ll be able to give you immediately after the final horn. But I’ll try my best.
OK, let’s check out MSU’s three keys to victory.
1. Slow the run. Alabama has a strong two-pronged rushing attack with Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon, a pair of big tailbacks. Those two have combined for 1,135 yards and 13 touchdowns, and the Crimson Tide is averaging 219.4 rushing yards per game, second in the SEC.
MSU has had issues against the run. It gave up 223 rushing yards to Troy and 213 to Tennessee. There were tackling issues, with opposing backs getting a lot of yards after contact.
State hasn’t racked up a lot of tackles-for-loss, and it can’t afford to let Lacy and Yeldon reach the second level with a head of steam.
2. Pass it around. Coming into the season, several observers pegged Alabama’s secondary as a potential soft spot because of personnel losses. The Tide is allowing only 136.9 passing yards per game, and it’s come up with 13 interceptions.
If there are any soft spots in that pass defense, MSU quarterback Tyler Russell might can find them. He’s done a superb job of spreading the ball around, and he’s got plenty of weapons at receiver, tight end and out of the backfield.
If Alabama can’t cover the whole field, Russell will exploit that.
3. Be perfect (or close). A theme in Starkville this week has been the need to play flawless football, because Alabama will grab the slightest advantage and run with it.
Players have to be in position, play solid technique and find consistency early. As cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith noted repeatedly, Alabama will “punish mistakes.”
• Notable stat: Alabama has won the last four meetings by an average of 22.5 points.
• Weather: The Weather Channel app tells me that it’s going to be non-rainy and very nippy. It’ll be in the low 50s at kickoff, and temps will dip only slightly as the night goes on.