W2W4 – Alabama versus Mississippi State

The Bama Lighthouse staff sincerely apologizes for the tardiness of the W2W4 this week.  The Lighthouse staff is currently lacking sponsors, revenue, staffing and time so, as the saying goes, you get what you pay for!

This week’s review of Mississippi State is admittedly lacking, as we just have film on their games against Kentucky and Missouri – the equivalent of watching Dak Prescott beat up on Starkville junior high.  But, we have stats, film and a season’s worth of video on Alabama so, even with our time constraints, we should be able to give you a little bit of what to watch for.

But, first and foremost, we would be remiss without acknowledging the tragic death of Bulldogs Keith Joseph Jr and his father Keith Joseph who both passed away in a one car accident last Friday.  Tonight, Mississippi Bulldog players, coaches, staff members and family gathered together at Humphrey Coliseum to mourn the tragic loss of these two young men.  Our thoughts and prayers are with the Bulldog family this week…

Alabama on Offense

The Alabama offense comes into this game on quite the high – and not the Colorado version either.  After dominating an LSU defense that was second in the SEC in stopping the run, a visit to Starkville certainly bodes well for the Tide’s running game.  The Bulldogs come into this week’s contest ranked an appalling 67th in the nation against the run and a mediocre 43rd against the pass.  Just last Thursday, MSU allowed an anemic Missouri offense to rush for 215 yards – you think Derrick Henry is pretty excited about this contest??

The Bulldogs’ new defensive coordinator is Manny Diaz and he starts blitzing his kids during pre game warmups.  MSU employs tons of zone blitzes so look for another rash of “negative plays” Saturday afternoon as the Bama line adjusts to the all out blitz attack from Diaz.  But, to the good, opportunities abound when State sends 5, 6 and 7 men on the blitz – just one crease and Henry and/or Kenyan Drake should find themselves bursting into the secondary with a head of steam.  The question will be whether or not the offensive line can limit the negative plays enough to give Bama some opportunities to get chunks of yardage.  That’s the key to this game but here are a few other items to watch for when Alabama has the ball…

Wide Open Spaces:  The MSU corners play way off opposing receivers so curls and stop routes will be available all day long. Even when the Bulldogs blitz, their corners play “off coverage” so if Ridley or Stewart can make a move, they should be off to the races.

Draw the Line:  Manny Diaz’s troops are hell bent on getting upfield and making plays in the backfield.  That sounds all well and good except it opens up running lanes behind them as they get upfield.  Look for a few draws and delays to gash the doggies as they attempt to sic em…

Size Matters:  Across the front, State goes 255, 260, 280 and 280 – not a lot of girth on these Dawgs.  That’s one of the reasons they rank so poorly against the run as they simply don’t have the physicality to stand up to big, thick, ornery offensive lines – something the Tide has in spades.  Bama loves to run between the tackles out of the spread and, again, Missouri gained 215 yards with smaller, less talented linemen and smaller, less talented backs.  Just sayin….

Just Beat It:  With MSU blitzing on most every down, getting the ball out to the backs via screens or swings will be a lovely opportunity for some big plays.  Additionally, both Kentucky and Mizzou had success with wide receiver screens.  Oh, and blitzing linebackers are often responsible for covering opposing tight ends so it’s no surprise that Kentucky had a few big plays with their TEs.

Honey I’m Good:  By now, Jake Coker’s exploits as a runner are pretty well renowned and we know Calvin Ridley is a big, big fan of the carnage the Coker leaves behind in his wake.  Kentucky had a lot of success in rolling their QB out and also with some well timed QB draws so look for Coker to break the pocket and pick up some yards with his legs.

Tidebits

  • While State ranks pretty low in yards given up, they check in at a surprising 11th in the country in defensive scoring.  This means they bend but they don’t break inside the red zone.  It will be critical for Bama to score touchdowns and not field goals on Saturday.
  • Sate seemed intent on protecting the edges so outside plays appear to be problematic.
  • MSU’s linebackers did not excel in pass coverage.  Bama should win any match ups against State’s LBs.
  • Cowbells.  There will be lots of them.  Look for a recurrence of false starts and botched snap counts because it’s gonna be LOUD.
  • In two minute drills, MSU played very safe/conservative coverages and their middle was wide open.

Alabama on Defense

In past match ups against MSU, Nick Saban and Kirby Smart have completely dominated State’s running game and, therefore, dominated the games.  Dan Mullen’s offense is typically predicated on a solid running back, an excellent running QB and the occasional threat of the pass.  This season, Mullen’s attack features a 5th year senior QB in Dak Prescott and with Prescott’s experience comes the evolution of the State offense.  The Dak attack has morphed from being an accidental thrower to a surgical passer and the stats (and film) bear that out.  MSU’s passing attack is ranked 21st in the country and features three outstanding receivers and backs that can make some yardage snagging passes out of the backfield.  Conversely, the Bulldog rushing attack has taken a backseat and checks in at #94 in rushing offense.  Times, they are a-changin.  And, unfortunately, this is precisely the type of attack that gives Bama’s defense fits.  The quick passing game will be the order of the day and with Dak completing 67% of his passes, getting pressure on him will be the key to a victory.  Here’s what else to look for Saturday when the Tide defense takes the field….

One Man Band:  With 418 yards rushing, Prescott leads MSU in rushing.  With 2351 yards passing, Prescott obviously leads the Bulldogs in passing, as well.  Get the picture?  Stop Dak.  Win the game.  Most of his throws are of the three step variety on slants, outs and curls so Bama’s D-line will need to get their hands up and swat some balls in order to attack the Dak.

Back Attack:  MSU loves, loves, loves to get the ball out to their backs out of the backfield in the passing game and Bama typically struggles to defend this.  When a back motions out of the backfield, one of two things are typically going to happen:  1) Dak runs a QB draw or 2) Dak swings the ball out to a back.  It’s tough to defend both.

Death, Taxes and…:  If it’s short yardage, I’ll give you one guess who is getting the ball.  D.A.K.  Third and short is third and Dak.

Under Pressure:  As athletic as Prescott is, when he’s pressured then his inaccurate and often makes bad decisions.  Look for Dak to throw a couple of ill-advised passes into tons o’ coverage.  Kentucky and Mizzou gave Dak entirely too much time to dissect their defenses and they paid the ultimate price for it.  Gotta.  Get.  Pressure.

Where’d Who Go?:  State’s offensive line has had a lot of injuries this season and they aren’t nearly as good as last year’s squad.  This season, Mizzou treated Mississippi State’s left tackle as a turnstile as they penetrated the backfield time and time again.  Additionally, State loves to leave the opposing defensive ends unblocked and we’ve shown you in this space what Alabama likes to do against that scheme.  Advantage Bama.

Tidebits

  • MSU runs the zone read when they look to run the football.  I can’t imagine they will have any success at this at all.
  • MSU is leading the SEC in TD percentage in red zone.  Holding State to field goal attempts will be considered a win.
  • For all of Dak’s improvements, he’s not a good deep ball thrower.  Dak throws the ball well on a line but isn’t effective in throwing the ball down the field.
  • Look for #32 Rashaan Evans to play a lot as a “spy” against Prescott.
  • Prescott likes to throw contested passes to #1 Derunnya Wilson so the Tide corners will be in for a fight.  Wilson is 6’5 and was once Mr Basketball in the state of Alabama.  MSU loves to run trips to one side and line Wilson up by himself in the red zone against one on one match ups.  Look for Wilson in the red zone.
  • Fred “My name isn’t Rick” Ross leads MSU in catches and is utilized in WR screens.

Alabama on Special Teams

JK Scott and Adam Griffith are about as hot as you can get right now so special teams should be an advantage for the Tide.  MSU’s main kicker is hitting 82% of his kicks and is 3 of 4 between 40-49 yards.  State is averaging nearly 42 yards punting which is 9th in the conference so that’s a lean towards Alabama.  Returns and return coverage are virtually a wash so these teams are pretty even in that respect.

Final Thoughts and Prediction

Coming off of an emotional victory over theaux hated Cajuns from Louisiana, it would be tough to expect Alabama to put forth another peak performance this week.  Cowbells will be ringing.  Cocktails will be pouring.  Will Bama be snoring?

MSU’s offense presents a pretty difficult test for the Tide defense.  They run the vaunted HUNH (hurry up, no huddle) offense.  They have a running QB.  They have a short, quick passing game featuring talented wide receivers and backs out of the backfield.  These Bulldogs will challenge the Tide’s defense in a way they haven’t been challenged since another Mississippi school came calling.

But, the Bulldog’s defense continually makes their fans say, “what the Hail, State?”  They are horrid against the run and that just so happens to be the very best weapon the Tide has at their disposal.  Whether it is Derrick Henry or Kenyan Drake, the Tide will continue their assault on the ground.  And, with State blitzing time and time again, look for Alabama to pick up some significant yardage when they can defeat the onslaught of Bulldog defenders.  A screen, a draw, a bomb off of a max protection – Bama will make a couple of chunk plays.  As a result……..

Alabama 31   Mississippi State 23

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