The Mississippi State Bulldogs are coming into Bryant-Denny Stadium on quite a high after defeating the #4 ranked Texas A&M Aggies. Ordinarily that might give the Bama Lighthouse staff a bit of a scare but, after reviewing the game, we are forecasting a big, big Bama win for breakfast Saturday morning.
Aggie QB Trevor Knight appeared to be injured going into the game and, when he was on the field, he missed a multitude of wide open receivers during the game. Once Knight was officially knocked out of the game (he should have been removed long before he was taken off by the medical staff – he went 5 of 14 for goodness sakes), backup QB Jake Hubenak torched the Bulldogs, going 11 of 17 for 222 yards and two touchdowns.
Throughout the game, Aggie receivers were left wide, wide open to the point where we wondered if this was an anomaly or if this was business as usual for the MSU secondary. Turns out, the Bulldogs are ranked #104 in pass defense, giving up 264 yards per game thru the air. So, the kinda suck at the whole pass defense thing. Disagree? Well, Samford threw for 468. Kentucky’s awful QB threw for 292. Even UMass threw for 274 yards and four touchdowns.
Now MSU did shut down a pretty good A&M rushing attack but, to be honest, the Aggies were playing left handed with Trevor Knight being banged up and eventually having to leave the game. So, as any good crack analytical staff would do, the Lighthouse researchers decided to check out how MSU has fared at stopping the run this season. UMass rushed for 138. LSU rushed for 177. Auburn rushed for 228 and Kentucky even bludgeoned the Bulldogs for 262 yards on the ground. All told, MSU’s rushing defense ranks 47th in the country, giving up 151 yards on the ground per game.
So, there you have it. Mississippi State’s defense appears to be the perfect cure for a Bama offense that has been struggling to throw the ball effectively. And, if all else fails, Bama should be able to pound the rock down the Dawgs’ throat. Here’s what else to watch for this week…
Alabama on Offense
Honestly, A&M had wide open receivers running free in the MSU secondary from the opening snaps of the game. Double moves were particularly deadly to the Dawgs as they always seemed to bite on the outs and then were beaten on the ups. Slants, curls, digs, corners, bubbles and swings were all open. MSU’s front four looks to be decent but their back seven appears to be very slow and relatively unathletic. They look like me trying to chase my dog down in the backyard – not pretty.
This week we think the Bama offense can name their score. Kiffin will come out throwing because he roughly has two games left to get Jalen Hurts untracked as a downfield passer. The Tide should be able to work on this throughout the game because we don’t anticipate MSU being able to score many points. Therefore, Kiffin and Co can take as many chances as their Hurts desires. Again, if all else fails, MSU can’t stop the run either so Alabama has a safety net if needed.
Here are a few other things to watch for…
Double Vision: We think MSU will follow LSU’s defensive game plan and will play the Tide’s receivers straight up with their corners and concentrate on defending the run. This will leave these little Doggies on an island where Calvin Ridley and Ardarius Stewart should be able to operate much more freely this week. Look for Hurts to pump fake on an out and then fire the ball down the field just as one of Bama’s receivers is completing a double move.
Abracadabra: We anticipate a ton of drop backs for Hurts this week which means eventually he’ll be able to break the pocket and get MASSIVE yardage with his legs. MSU doesn’t have the athleticism to catch him in the open field so look for a few more big gainers as Hurts escapes the pocket. State used a spy on Knight but the spy was way too slow and was essentially stuck in no-man’s land as he neither rushed nor played pass defense. It was like they played 10 on 11. Also, when A&M used an empty set, State countered with a four man defensive front and one linebacker, essentially playing the Aggies five-on-six with Knight playing the role of a running back.
Right Round: Look for Bama’s backs to spin right round the corner nearly every time they run wide Saturday morning. Did we mention MSU’s linebackers seem slow? A&M backs turned the corner a few times last week.
Cheap Thrills: A cheap way to get Jalen in rhythm will be to isolate any of the Tide receivers on State’s linebackers – in particular, Calvin Ridley. When A&M went to an empty set they were somehow able to line up Christian Kirk against linebacker Richie Brown (#39). This was easy, easy pickins. For the game, Kirk caught 7 passes for 144 yards and we think Ridley should have similar numbers this week.
I’m Still Standin: MSU will sometimes have all but two of their defensive linemen standing up at the snap. Bama should automatically check to a run if they see this because, as we all know, leverage is king. The low man wins 99% of the battles and State often invites their opponents to get up underneath their defensive line and put them on roller skates.
- Look for State to blitz their slot defenders repeatedly in an effort to attack the mesh point of the zone read.
- State also showed a four man front but would walk up a defender late to form more of a five man front. Again, this is geared to stuff the running lanes.
- AJ Jefferson (#47) is an outstanding defensive end. This Jefferson is moving on up the tackles for loss list as he ranks #4 in the SEC in TFLs.
- Look for Alabama to take multiple deep shots. The Aggies beat MSU deep badly on five different occasions (though not all of them were caught).
- State was hell bent on stopping the Aggies’ running game and the Bulldogs chose to leave their DBs in one-on-ones outside. This meant MSU played 3-over-3 on the outside which should lend to numerous effective bubble screens for the Tide.
- On more than one occasion, MSU misaligned their defense to the tight end side of the formation and failed to put enough bodies on that side of the field. Each time they do this, Bama should attack this via the ground and will have a field day attacking the outmanned Dawgs.
- At the goal line, State again plays straight man to man and they switch off the crossing routes inside the five yard line. This effectively stops any slants but it gives up room for some out routes. Look for Alabama to hit a couple of out routes near the goal line this week.
Alabama on Defense
What can you say about this unit? Any fears about them being undersized or having a lack of depth were put to rest last week against LSU as the completely and totally dominated the one dimensional Tigers.
This week, Mississippi State comes in sporting a very similar offense to Alabama. The Bulldogs struggle throwing the ball and are tied with Alabama, ranking 80th in the country in passing offense. And, like Alabama, the Bulldogs’ bread and butter is their 26th ranked running game led by QB Nick Fitzgerald and his 839 yards rushing, good for 5th in the conference.
But, guess what Alabama does pretty dang well? They stop the run like no one else in college football. Alabama is ranked #1 in rushing defense, giving up just 66 yards on the ground per game. The next closest team is San Diego State who gives up 86 yards on the ground. That’s an obscene stat – Alabama’s defense is 20 yards better than the next closest team in rushing defense. If you want to challenge this Bama defense, you’d better be bringing a gunslinger like Chad Kelly or Austin Allen to the party. Nick Fitzgerald is ranked 9th in the conference in QBR and is 8th in the conference in completion percentage (56%) – not exactly the right recipe to defeat this Bama bunch.
Dan Mullen has never, ever had any semblence of success on the ground against a Nick Saban defense and it won’t start Saturday. Nick Fitzgerald isn’t the type of QB who can carry a team with on his right shoulder so we look for the Tide D to rule the day once again. Here are a few little nuggets to keep an eye on…
Short, Short Man: Fitzgerald throws virtually everything outside and short. Look for Alabama’s corners to squat on the short throws and we anticipate the Tide D getting a NOT (non-offensive touchdown) in the way of a pick six this week.
Land of Confusion: Fitzgerald also doesn’t appear to have a ton of pocket presence so look for a few sacks, including maybe a strip sack. He just holds the ball too long…
Is that Tough Enough: Ok, so the MSU quarterback stares down receivers, throws nothing but short passes and lacks pocket awareness. So what does he do well? Well, while Fitzgerald looks gangly he’s actually a very strong and smooth runner. We won’t be surprised if he makes a few plays with his legs – he isn’t ranked 5th in the conference in rushing for no reason. But, most of his damage was made by him running off the edge and, as we’ve said since we started this blog, nobody in college football contains the edge like Alabama does.
Dak Attack: On third downs, just like last year with Dak Prescott, look for Dan Mullen to call on his QB to get a first down with his legs. MSU will empty the backfield showing pass but everyone on the planet will know that a QB draw is imminent.
- Fred Ross (#8) is the Bulldogs’ go-to receiver. Ross has 54 catches this season, twice as many as anyone else on the roster. Stop Ross and you stop the passing attack.
- Stop Fitzgerald and you stop MSU’s rushing attack. There is very little diversity with this Dan Mullen offense.
- Fitzgerald is 6’5 but he still had at least three passes batted down by the Aggies. The A&M defensive line anticipated the short, quick throws and were able to get their hands up to knock down a few throws.
- The Bulldogs throw a ton of bubble screens which Alabama typically eats for breakfast. Good thing it’s an 11AM kick…
- The MSU line seemed relatively effective but it was hard to tell since Myles Garrett was injured and held out of most of the game.
- Zone read, zone read, zone read – that’s what you can expect from State’s game plan. Alabama’s defense was built to defend this style offense.
Alabama on Special Teams
JK Scott is now the #1 ranked punter in the league with a 48.12 yard average per punt. Alabama should dominate field position all morning and afternoon long since State’s punter is ranked 11th in the conference with a 39.75 yard punting average. Additionally, Bama’s punt return team still ranks 6th in the country while MSU checks in ranked 114th in average punt returns.
Lastly, Mississippi State actually has a kicker who is struggling worse than Adam Griffith. Westin Graves is 9 of 15 on the year, missing three times from inside of 30 yards (including once last week against Texas A&M). Griffith, meanwhile, is 11 of 17 on the season, missing three times from over 40 yards out and two times from over 30 yards out. Thankfully, this game should not come down to a kicking contest.
Final Thoughts and Prediction
Mississippi State simply isn’t the type of team that can challenge the Alabama Crimson Tide this season. On offense, the Bulldogs are only good at running the football and defensively they excel at nothing. Look for Alabama to be able to name their score Saturday morning unless they somehow fall prey to the dreaded 11AM kickoff curse. Will there be a letdown after the LSU game? Maybe. Can MSU capitalize on this? Absolutely not. Saturday should be filled with mimosas, kegs and eggs….and Mississippi State team that gets scattered, smothered, covered, chunked, diced and topped…
Final Score: Alabama 38 Mississippi State 7
On this Veteran’s Day, the Bama Lighthouse would like to extend our heartfelt love and gratitude to every man and woman who has served this great country of ours.