Alabama at Mississippi State

Sports Xchange

November 08, 2017 at 3:17 pm.

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Saturday, 7 p.m. ET
SITE: Davis Wade Stadium, Starkville, Miss.
TV: ESPN
SERIES: Alabama leads 81-17-3 (79-18-3 after forfeits and vacated wins). The Crimson Tide won 51-3 in 2016.
RANKINGS: Alabama No. 2; Mississippi State No. 16

PLAYERS TO WATCH
Crimson Tide

–QB Jalen Hurts carried Alabama’s offense against LSU and may need to do the same if the offensive line can’t create running lanes against Mississippi State’s defense. Hurts has rushed for 616 yards, second on the team to the 730 of RB Damien Harris.

–WR Calvin Ridley is an electric receiver with game-changing ability. He’s one of the top receivers in the country. He has 44 receptions for 584 yards and two touchdowns.

–LB Dylan Moses will have to carry a bigger load because of the injury situation at linebacker. Moses has only seven tackles in eight games but has been in on 1.5 sacks.

–S Tony Brown will be the replacement if S Minkah Fitzpatrick is limited because of his hamstring. Brown has 19 tackles and has broken up a pass.

Bulldogs

–RB Aeris Williams is coming off his fourth 100-yard rushing game this season and sixth of his career. Williams ran for 114 yards against UMass and ranks eighth in the SEC averaging 86.2 yards per game.

–WR Deddrick Thomas is being relied upon heavily with the Bulldogs’ down four wide receivers due to injuries. Thomas also sealed Mississippi State’s win last weekend with an 83-yard punt return for a touchdown with five minutes remaining.

–LB Montez Sweat leads the Bulldogs in tackles for loss with 9.0 with 6.5 of them a team high in sacks. He has 34 tackles overall and a fumble recovery.

–S J.T. Gray snagged his first career interception against UMass and made the most of it, returning it 58-yards for a pick-6 on the opening drive. Gray has thrived in his new in the secondary role after moving from outside linebacker in the spring.

KEYS
TO THE GAME

Alabama will be facing a different kind of opponent this week has it continues its inexorable march toward another appearance in the College Football Playoff.

Coming off a physical 24-10 win over LSU, a team that features a power-run offense that takes its toll on defenders, the Crimson Tide now takes on a Mississippi State team that is also physical but likes to spread defenses out.

The No. 1 Tide (9-0, 6-0 SEC) and No. 16 Bulldogs (7-2, 3-2 SEC) kick off at 7 p.m. Saturday at State’s Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville with ESPN carrying the action.

“I think Mississippi State is really a good team,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said while praising Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen. “They’ve had a great year. They’ve won seven games this year.

“Dan has done a really good job there in the years that he’s been there. Great offensive coach. Always presents a lot of issues and problems for the defense to adjust to.”

But the Bulldogs are faced with preparing for one of the top teams in the country. Alabama has lost one game since the start of the 2015 season.

“Great challenge for our guys this week,” Mullen said. “Obviously, playing the best team in the country, a team that’s really been the dominant program in all of college football over the last 10 years. Not everyone gets to play them, but we get to play them every year. We know them well.”

Alabama is tasked with slowing Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick is fifth in the SEC, averaging 89 rushing yards per game and has accounted for 25 total touchdowns on the year. His 12 rushing touchdowns are tied for second in the SEC.

“They have a lot of quarterback runs, so basically you’re playing against wildcat at every snap,” Saban said. “But because it’s a quarterback and he has a great ability to throw, that’s something you have to take into consideration and make sure you can defend their passing game as well. Then when they do pass, his ability to scramble and run also creates problems for the defense.

“Any of these guys that are athletic enough to make plays with their feet, can execute quarterback runs and do it with a level of toughness that is equal to a running back, and then their pocket passing to go out there and make plays in the passing game, I think those guys create lots of problems for everybody on defense, not just linebackers.”

Mullen will be in search of ways to move the ball against Alabama’s defense. The Bulldogs were outgained 615 to 274 against Alabama last season and managed just a field goal in the blowout loss.

Alabama ranks among the top teams in the SEC in nearly every statistical category. Mullen hasn’t noticed a drop off in the Crimson Tide’s defense.

“They got one of the top defenses, if not the best defense, in the country,” Mullen said. “They come at you with a lot of depth and rotate a lot of guys through. They have really big, physically-style guys up front.

“They’re very disciplined and fundamentally sound. They have great tackling linebackers. They also have guys that can cover you throughout the entire secondary.”

But it also is a wounded crew. Linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton is out for the season with a knee injury, linebacker Mack Wilson looks to miss four-to-six weeks with a foot injury, and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick is day-to-day with a hamstring issue.

Mississippi State would need a win over Alabama and a Tide loss to Auburn to get a share of the division crown and a win over the Crimson Tide could put the Bulldogs in a great position to make a New Year’s Six Bowl.

The Bulldogs also will be looking to snap a nine-game losing streak in the series that the Tide has dominated.

“We’re confident,” Bulldogs quarterback Nick Fitzgerald said. “There should never be a time when you line up across from someone and think you can’t beat them. I have full confidence in our team that we can win.

“They’re an extremely good football team, top in the country, and they have been for a while. You have to not worry about the name on their chest and just go out there and play your game.”

 

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