Mississippi State at Alabama

The Sports Xchange

November 07, 2018 at 6:21 pm.

KICKOFF: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
SITE: Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, Ala.
SERIES: Alabama leads 81-18-3. Alabama won 31-24 in 2017.
RANKINGS: Mississippi State No. 16, Alabama No. 1


–QB Nick Fitzgerald has fared well the past two games. Fitzgerald completed 62 percent of his passes for 484 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions while also rushing for 195 yards and two more scores in wins over Texas A&M and Louisiana Tech.

–WR Deddrick Thomas led the Bulldogs with 70 yards receiving against Louisiana Tech and also scored his first touchdown of the year. Thomas also excelled in the return game and finished with a team-high 131 all-purpose yards.

–LB Erroll Thompson is second on the team with 62 tackles this season and has also added four tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and two interceptions. Thompson has an 88.1 coverage grade from Pro Football Focus, which is tops among SEC linebackers.

Crimson Tide

–QB Tua Tagovailoa remains the clear Heisman front-runner after Alabama’s 29-0 statement victory at LSU. He has sailed through SEC play so far, completing 99 of 151 passes (65.6 percent) for 1,778 yards, with 19 touchdowns and one interception (which did come last weekend). For the season, he has directed 72 drives with 45 resulting in touchdowns (62.5 percent) and six ending in field goals. In those drives, the Tide offense is 36 of 57 (63.2 percent) on third-down chances. Against LSU, Tagovailoa threw a pass in the fourth quarter for the first time this season.

–RB Damien Harris, a senior, rushed for 107 yards against LSU, his second 100-yard game of the season as he has shared time with Najee Harris (84 carries, 572 yards) and Josh Jacobs (59 carries, 284 yards). Damien Harris has rushed 87 times for 542 yards, giving him 2,736 career yards to move into ninth place in school history.

–LB Mack Wilson made a leaping interception in the end zone in the fourth quarter against LSU, giving the Crimson Tide at least one takeaway in 51 of its last 53 games, dating to the start of the 2015 season. Alabama has forced 90 turnovers (62 interceptions, 28 fumbles) in that span, returning 21 of those takeaways for touchdowns. Wilson had four tackles, including one for loss, vs. LSU.


With a division-deciding 29-0 win over LSU in the immediate past and the annual Iron Bowl rivalry game with Auburn coming up Thanksgiving weekend, No. 1 Alabama looks to be in classic “trap game” mode as it prepares to host Mississippi State Saturday.

Kickoff at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa is 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS.

The Crimson Tide (9-0, 6-0 Southeastern Conference) wrapped up a berth in the SEC Championship game with the win in Baton Rouge and pretty much has been ceded one of the four spots in the College Football Playoff for a fifth consecutive season.

But keeping focus against the No. 16 Bulldogs (6-3, 2-3 SEC) remains a priority in coach Nick Saban’s view. The Bulldogs have won their last two games (Texas A&M, Louisiana Tech) in recovering from a lackluster 19-3 loss at LSU.

“Moving forward, the battle gets very internal in terms of putting the last game behind you and looking forward to the challenges and the test of the future, so you can’t really be complacent or satisfied,” Saban said. “We need to put that behind us and get ready for the next team, Mississippi State, which is a very good team.

“They’re 6-3, they have one of the top defensive teams in the country. Really good front. Really good pass efficiency defense. Hard to run against. One of the top defensive teams in the country.”

One motivating factor in Saban’s favor is that Alabama nearly lost this game a year ago.

The teams were nearly in the same situation when Jalen Hurts arguably had his finest moment as a starting quarterback in 2017. He connected with Calvin Ridley on third-and-15 and then DeVonta Smith for a 26-yard touchdown pass with 25 seconds remaining as then No. 2 Alabama survived 31-24 at Starkville.

“It was tough,” Crimson Tide senior running back Damien Harris said. “Very hostile environment. Playing a tough team; good on offense, defense and special teams.

“They do a lot of things that gave us issues. I remember that being a game I didn’t really know if we were going to be able to pull that out.”

Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald was 13-for-24 for 158 yards and ran for 66 yards and a touchdown.

But this time the game will be at Bryant-Denny Stadium, where Alabama hasn’t played since Oct. 13, and the Crimson Tide has the Heisman Trophy frontrunner at quarterback in sophomore Tua Tagovailoa.

“I hope we are able to make it difficult on him,” Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead said. “I think they are up near 550 yards per game in total offense and over 50 points.

“Great players like him I call them game wreckers, because they can take the games over by themselves. I don’t know that it is ever necessarily a matter of stopping them as it is neutralizing them or containing them. That is our hope with him.”

Tagovailoa has been slowed somewhat by a knee injury, but Alabama’s running game has improved of late and the defense has started looking as good as the Crimson Tide offense. LSU was limited to 12 rushing yards on 25 carries. It was only the fourth time in 25 years that the Tigers were shut out at Tiger Stadium.

Alabama has also won the last 10 meetings against the Bulldogs.

Mississippi State’s Moorhead is new to the rivalry in his first year with the Bulldogs, but he is aware of what he is facing.

“I don’t think there is enough time in the press conference or ink in the printer to go through all of his superlatives,” Moorhead said about Saban. “Obviously, the best head coach in college football right now and arguably one of the best of all time.”

And the Alabama program?

“They’re the gold standard of the league.,” Moorhead said. “They’ve done it the best for the longest time.”