Mississippi State a potential pitfall for Alabama's playoff hopes
Coming off its biggest and most impressive victory of the season, a 30-16 whooping of LSU, Alabama looks like a team heading toward the College Football Playoff. But Mississippi State represents the next potential stumbling block.
On the surface, one might think that if the Crimson Tide can shut down Leonard Fournette and the Tigers, the Alabama defense is up for just about any task. But the Bulldogs, led by dual-threat quarterback Dak Prescott, represent the kind of offense that has given Alabama some trouble in recent years.
Prescott has thrust himself into the First-Team All-SEC and even the Heisman Trophy discussions in recent weeks, and he’s led Mississippi State to a No. 20 ranking and a 7-2 record. One of those losses was a 2-point setback vs. LSU.
The senior quarterback is once again leading the Bulldogs in passing and rushing with an average of 261 yards per game through the air and 46.4 yards per contest on the ground. So unlike LSU and several other offenses the Tide has shut down, Mississippi State doesn’t rely heavily on a running back to carry the load.
But as impressive as Prescott has been, he’s not the only weapon the Bulldogs have. Wide receivers Fred Ross and De’Runnya Wilson each average more than 60 yards per game. Meanwhile, Fred Brown and Donald Gray have not been as steadily productive, but they are big-play threats in the MSU offense.
On the ground, the Bulldogs don’t have a running back with more than 220 yards this season, so it’s easy to think that if Alabama can shut down Fournette, Georgia’s Nick Chubb and Arkansas’ Alex Collins, it should have next to no trouble turning the Bulldogs into a one-dimensional passing game.
But Prescott has the ability to get yards both on designed run plays and when he sees a passing play breaking down. The Bulldogs also mix the option into their offensive attack, meaning it’s a much different look than the pro-style systems Alabama has had success against.
Alabama is the favorite, not only in this game but perhaps to win the whole SEC at this point, and rightfully so. But don’t be surprised if the Bulldogs give the Tide more of a challenge than some higher-ranked teams have done.
MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS, A CLOSER LOOK
Best offensive player, QB Dak Prescott — The senior is going to go down as one of the SEC’s all-time best. This season, he has 418 yards rushing and 2,351 yards passing. He’s thrown 300 passes with just 1 interception, so don’t expect him to make a lot of mistakes that lead to Alabama points. The bottom line is, if you have one shot to knock off the Tide, there aren’t a lot of players you’d rather have leading your offense in that game.
Best defensive player, LB Richie Brown — The junior is having an outstanding season, leading the Bulldogs with 73 tackles, but he’s not just accumulating tackles. He’s also making big plays all over the field. He leads the team with 5.5 sacks, and he’s 2nd on the team with 8 tackles for a loss. He’s also got an interception and a pass breakup. The Alabama offensive line will have to be aware of Brown at all times.
Best special teams player, PR Fred Ross — Ross is a threat to break away both as a receiver and as a punt/kick returner. He’s returned 12 punts for an average of 11 yards, but he’s picked his spots well and has a 77-yard return for a touchdown to his credit. Ross has potential to be a game-changer.