This week’s game: No. 17 MSU (7-2, 3-2 SEC) at No. 11 Alabama (7-2, 4-2), Saturday, 6:15 p.m., ESPN2
After a tough bye week, Mississippi State must turn its focus to a big game this weekend. On Saturday, Nick Bell was laid to rest. On Sunday, it was back to full game week mode for the Bulldogs, who have won six in a row and climbed four spots in the rankings this week without even playing.
Coach Dan Mullen will have his usual 1 p.m. press conference today, so be sure to follow me on Twitter for updates. Now, to this week’s opponent.
• Last meeting: Alabama 31, MSU 3 (Nov. 14, 2009, in Starkville)
• Alabama leads 73-18-3
• Last week: MSU was idle; Alabama lost to LSU, 24-21.
• Alabama on the web: rolltide.com
• Alabama coach: Nick Saban (fourth year, 40-10)
• Three Alabama players to watch: QB Greg McElroy, RB Mark Ingram, LB Dont’a Hightower
• Premature review: Back in the summer, I wrote this in my Premature Preview of Alabama: “Maybe it’s because I know how often the media is wrong when trying to predict the future, but I’ve just got this nagging feeling that Alabama won’t repeat as national champs and might not even repeat as SEC champs.”
With the loss to LSU, both of those goals are out the window. (An SEC title is still mathematically possible, but it’s highly unlikely.)
My main concern was with a defense that lost nine starters. It’s not been a bad defense, but it’s not been overly intimidating either. In its 35-21 win over the Tide on Oct. 9, South Carolina gained a modest 311 yards but put those 35 on the board, and RB Marcus Lattimore rushed for 93 yards.
Bama ranks fourth in the SEC in total defense (307.1 yards per game) and first in scoring defense (13.8 points per game). You can run on the Tide a little bit, as it gives up 125.8 ypg on the ground; MSU averages 218.7 yards rushing, third in the league.
Here’s what has become a bigger concern for Alabama: Its run game. Crazy, huh? You’ve got Mr. Heisman back there, and Richardson has the potential to possibly be even better. They average 162.0 yards per game between them.
But against South Carolina, Bama managed a measly 36 rushing yards. Against LSU, 102. Heck, Ole Miss held the Tide to 100. In SEC games only, Alabama averages 148.6 rushing yards per game. That’s way below standard for that backfield that averaged 215.1 ypg last season.
So, stop the run, and you’ve got a real good chance at stopping Alabama. MSU yields 115.2 rushing yards per game (fourth in the SEC), including 142.0 in league play.
The Crimson Tide looks quite vulnerable right now, especially with MSU coming off a bye week and, you would assume, drawing some extra inspiration from the loss of their teammate and friend.
The opening line on this game has Alabama as a 14-point favorite, which is rather curious to me. It’s in Tuscaloosa, sure, but this is neither last year’s Alabama nor last year’s Mississippi State.