Mississippi State football: A look ahead to Alabama matchup
Mississippi State’s next opponent, Alabama, is coming off a road loss to an unranked Texas A&M team. Mississippi State, meanwhile, is coming off of a bye preceded by a win over that same opponent in the same location.
If this were a blind exercise, it would be easy to argue that the Bulldogs would be even-money to win their next game, if not favored.
But, this is real life. Their next opponent is the best program in college football history.
However, for the first time in many years, the Alabama Crimson Tide football team appears generally human.
Famous last words
So, in Year 2 of a new coaching regime with a new system, what are reasonable expectations for the Bulldogs in Saturday’s matchup with Alabama?
Let’s start with a review of Alabama’s recent games.
In Alabama’s past three SEC matchups, their opponent appeared to come into the game with a clear plan that appeared to work.
Against Florida, Alabama escaped despite being outplayed for portions of that game. Indeed, when the Gators scored to cut the Alabama lead to 21-9, they missed the subsequent PAT and eventually failed to make it up on a 2-point try further down the line. They lost by just two, 31-29.
That’s the kind of attention to detail or bit of luck teams need to beat the Tide.
Against Ole Miss, one can easily argue that the Rebels had a better game plan but did not match up on the field at 21 of 22 positions. The Rebels, as they are wont to do, attempted quite a few 4th conversions, but failed to convert on 3 of 5, including one on the opening drive inside the Alabama 10-yard line.
Unlike the Gators and the Aggies, the Rebels don’t have the defensive personnel to stop Alabama with any regularity.
Texas A&M, with losses to Mississippi State and Arkansas, proved that Alabama is beatable.
The Aggies held their own in the trenches, their receivers won on the outside, they had dynamism and consistency on special teams, and their defense stopped and/or held the run game in check.
A key bit of information that Florida, Ole Miss, and Texas A&M provided to Mississippi State, and everyone else, is that you can move the ball on this Alabama team.
Florida rushed for nearly 250 yards and added nearly 200 more in the air. Ole Miss moved the ball fine, but couldn’t stop Alabama on defense enough to get more possessions.
Perhaps most damning of all, Texas A&M, trailing by a touchdown, needed back-to-back drives in the 4th quarter to beat Alabama. One drive was 65 yards in about two minutes for a TD, while the second was 54 yards in about two minutes for the winning field goal.
The Tide couldn’t get the go-ahead score on their last drive and weren’t able to stop A&M’s winning drive.
Now, how often have you seen a Nick Saban team do anything like that?
Beating Alabama requires excellent quarterback play. The quarterback needs to be confident enough to throw the ball into windows that are NFL tight, not college football tight. The quarterback also must be tough enough to get hit a lot and relaxed enough to not get rattled.
When you recall some of the great victories over Alabama, the quarterback stands out. Recall Bo Wallace and Chad Kelly for Ole Miss, Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence for Clemson, Johnny Manziel for Texas A&M, Cardale Jones for Ohio State, Brian Jonson for Utah, Trevor Knight for Oklahoma, Cam Newton and Nick Marshall for Auburn, Joe Burrow for LSU, and now the excellent performance by Zack Calzada, also of TAMU.
Can Mississippi State’s Will Rogers give the next great quarterback performance against Alabama? And will it be enough?
I feel foolish spending so many words discussing Will Rogers II, as football is a team sport, but his performance has been infatuating to me.
From where I sit, Rogers has shown mental progress in each game since the second half of the season opener against Louisiana Tech. He has trusted the Air Raid system, checking down over and over again. However, each week, he has shown an increasing willingness to take deeper shots.
Rogers is young. His relationship with his receivers needs building and grooming. The important thing to me is that the growth he shows is steady and predictable.
We will obviously spend more time previewing this enormous opportunity later in the week. For now, I simply recall two performances by MSU legend Dak Prescott that I would argue (a hill I will die on at any tailgate you invite me to) were good enough to beat Alabama and ask myself two questions.
Am I certain that Rogers do it? Am I certain he can do it this year?