Published October 24, 2012 - 9:20am
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Before you scoff at the idea that Mississippi State can hang with the big boys, dig a little bit deeper and take off your Crimson-shaded glasses. The 2012 version of Mississippi State and Alabama have a similar style of play and match up particularly well.
Forget tradition; forget SEC Championships; forget national championships. Take this game for what it is – two hard-nosed, undefeated and defensive-minded clubs are going to battle, and only one will emerge still undefeated. Its likely Alabama, who nearly everyone figures to be the best team in the entire country, comes out on top, but it should be closer than many think. Vegas opened up with Bama as 24-point favorites. I’m surprised it reached 20. Many of you aren’t.
Both teams have been opportunistic on defense and lived off opposing teams virtually beating themselves. MSU has 21 takeaways on defense, while Alabama has 20. We say all the time that what makes Alabama so good is that they just wait until the other team beats itself. Likewise, MSU has done a fabulous job in finding opportunities to create turnovers. Alabama has turned it over six times – no INTs – compared to MSU’s five times. Each team protects the ball disgustingly well.
Quarterbacks Tyler Russell and AJ McCarron are very efficient with the football. There’s one INT between the two, and it belongs to Russell. McCarron leads the country in passing efficiency, throwing for 16 touchdowns. Russell is fourth in the SEC and 26th in the country in efficiency with 15 touchdowns, and he is completing 60 percent of his passes. Third-down conversions will be crucial for both teams.
Both offenses have benefited from strong defenses, allowing the quarterbacks and receivers to get more comfortable and progress throughout the season. Bama’s running game is getting revved up, and MSU’s is, too, with LaDarius Perkins, who currently leads the SEC in rushing and is the only running back to average 100 yards per game.
Three of the top four secondary players – MSU’s Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay and Alabama’s Dee Milliner – will be in uniform on the same field. Banks and Slay are tied for the lead in the SEC with four INTs, and Milliner is first in the SEC with 15 passes defended. All three will play on Sundays. Both secondaries are ball hawks, and they know it’s crucial to make plays to give their offense the short field to work with.
Similarly, both teams know the importance of and have depth in the running game and play a ball-controlled offense. The Tide and Bulldogs sit #2 and #3 in time of possession in the SEC, each averaging 32 to 33 minutes per game. In addition, Bama and MSU are #3 and #4 in penalties in the SEC. Each team is disciplined and focuses on the little things to win games. Yeah, we’re back to not beating themselves again.
Mississippi State is going to have to find a way to limit the running game with Eddie Lacy and TJ Yeldon. If the Bulldogs can’t stop the running game, it completely takes away the favorable match up in the secondary.
Aside from the fact that neither team has really played a strong schedule, each team has taken care of business just as they have needed to do. Dan Mullen thinks his team has been tested and is ready for the Tide.
“We’ve been tested a bunch. We’ve had some pretty close games during this season,” Mullen said during his weekly teleconference with reporters Sunday. “Alabama will be the best team we’ve played so far — but I guess anybody that plays them will say that about them since they’re the best team in the country. Our kids have been through some different tests, they’ve faced the adversity of success, they’ve faced the adversity on the field of being put in some rough situations and we had to step up and make some plays. Our guys have been through a lot and we have some good leadership on this team. I feel like they’ll be ready for the environment we’re going to head into on Saturday night.”
And Nick Saban knows that Mississippi State always plays his team tough.
“They always play tough against us,” Saban told reporters today in Tuscaloosa. “They don’t play OK against us, they play good. We struggled as much against them last year as anybody we played against.”
MSU only trailed Bama 10-0 heading into the fourth quarter last season in Starkville.
“We’ve got a very challenging team this week,” Saban said. “Dan Mullen has done a fantastic job there for them to be 7-0 and have won nine straight games. I think it speaks volumes for the great job that he’s done from a program standpoint there. They have a very, very good offensive team, probably one of the best, most balanced offenses we’ve faced all year. Tyler Russell has done a phenomenal job. They’ve got a really good runner. Chad Bumphis is a really explosive, good receiver. He’s a good run-after-the-catch guy as well as has great speed. They lead the nation in turnover margin, which is always big in winning. Defensively, they’re one of the most difficult teams to score on in the country. They’re ranked in the Top 10, and they have two really good corners. They’re physical up front. They play with a lot of toughness. This is without a doubt the best team that we’ve played this season.”
#11 Mississippi State and #1 Alabama tackle each other Saturday night in what is a respect game for the Bulldogs and their fans. You want respect? You have a chance to bring it home Saturday night. Perhaps MSU catches Alabama at a good time, between Tennessee and LSU.
Field position and turnover ratio will be the two most crucial items on the agenda for both Dan Mullen and Nick Saban.
Photo Credit: Spruce Derden-US PRESSWIRE