STARKVILLE – There will be no secrets when Mississippi State’s offense lines up against No. 3 Alabama’s defense on Saturday night.
The Bulldogs average 219.2 rushing yards per game, third in the SEC and 12th in the nation. The Crimson Tide’s run defense (68.2 ypg) ranks first in the SEC and second in the country.
So MSU coach Dan Mullen fully expects Alabama to dare him to throw it.
“They clog up gaps with their size, and then they always have an extra guy there to make the tackle in the box, because they’re able to play man-to-man on the outside,” Mullen said Monday at his weekly press conference.
MSU (4-5, 2-3 SEC) will see its receivers in plenty of one-on-one matchups. The Bulldogs haven’t always won those matchups, but then, they’ve played some tough defenses, like Florida and LSU.
The Tide (9-0, 6-0) has a shut-down secondary led by strong safety Mark Barron and cornerback Javier Arenas, who was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance in a 24-15 win over LSU.
Barron has four interceptions and 55 tackles, while Arenas has one pick and 52 stops.
“It’s not only those two guys, it’s all of them,” offensive coordinator Les Koenning said. “You start individualizing their defense, it’s going to be unreal.”
But the individual matchups are critical for MSU.
“All we can do is create one-on-ones, and we’re going to try to do that every day,” Koenning said. “That’s a heck of a defense.”
White learning fast
– MSU linebacker Chris White, a junior college transfer who enrolled in January, isn’t just a big country kid from Vancleave. The 6-foot-3, 245-pounder has caught some eyes with his speed and athleticism.
Mullen said White is the fastest linebacker on the team.
“Chris is a great athlete, good size, good speed,” Mullen said. “I think what you’re seeing now is a guy that’s starting to understand our defensive scheme better, really starting to understand offensive schemes and what they’re trying to do, which makes him a more productive football player.”
White is third on the team with 56 tackles to go with four tackles-for-loss.
“I’ve known the defense from the beginning, but the more you know it, the more comfortable you feel,” White said. “I don’t know why, but people don’t think I’m as fast as I am.”
– Mullen said sophomore linebacker Bo Walters is likely done for this season. A knee injury has kept him out since playing in the first two games.
Tailback Christian Ducre; isn’t full speed yet but is expected to play Saturday. Offensive lineman Tobias Smith was “full go” at Monday’s practice and should be available, too.
– The Alabama game will be broadcast by ESPN, with the crew of Brad Nessler, Todd Blackledge and Erin Andrews visiting Starkville for the second time this season. The last time was when Florida came calling on Oct. 24; the Gators won, 29-19.
This will be the first time since 2001 that ESPN has come to Davis Wade Stadium twice in the same season. That year, MSU lost to South Carolina, 16-14, but beat Ole Miss, 36-28.
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal