Alabama vs Mississippi State: In advance of Alabama’s matchup with Mississippi State on Saturday, we talked to Clarion Ledger Mississippi State beat writer Will Sammon.
Here’s what he said about the Bulldogs and the matchup.
What’s been different for Mississippi State since the losses to Georgia and Auburn?
Not playing teams like Georgia and Auburn have helped, but Mississippi State’s secondary, pass-rush and offensive line have all improved since the lopsided loss to the Tigers in Week 5. The biggest test for an offensive line that featured redshirt freshmen tackles — at the time; Martinas Rankin has since returned at left tackle — was on the road against Texas A&M. The offensive line couldn’t (handle) the crowd noise at Georgia and Auburn, but there were no communication issues in College Station. Big plays are prevalent in college football, but they especially hurt MSU. Its secondary has since improved its discipline in that regard. Lastly, edge-guy Montez Sweat has really emerged as a top pass-rusher and leads the team in hurries, sacks and hits on the quarterback.
What have people from Mississippi State been saying about this matchup with Alabama?
We’ve heard most of the usual, cliche stuff like, “It’s just another game,” from players, but the mood around the team is that of a quiet confidence, according to quarterback Nick Fitzgerald. You won’t find anyone declaring victory since, after all, Dan Mullen has yet to beat Alabama. But the players do have a firm belief in their collective ability, it seems. Now, fans? They sort of take a more realistic approach to this game. Just staying in the game and not getting embarrassed, of course, would be OK here for many. And that’s just about the case anywhere else in the country, I’d think. For MSU, the Bulldogs don’t need a win this week to feel good about their season — they are on pace for nine wins in a year many figured they’d get six. But this game is a good assessment to see just where MSU stands and if it can close even just a bit the wide gap established last year that separates the two programs.
What’s the team’s greatest strength?
MSU’s biggest strength is its rushing attack and offensive line. Fitzgerald breaks the explosive plays, but running back Aeris Williams does the dirty work, often putting the Bulldogs in manageable third downs while racking up more than 20 carries. Everybody on the offensive line pulls, including center Elgton Jenkins, so MSU gets creative with its blocking schemes and designs. The team’s 259.3 rushing yards per game is No. 11 in the country.
What’s the biggest weakness?
MSU doesn’t have a vertical threat in its passing game. What’s more, the group is banged up and No. 1 receiver Donald Gray (groin) may not play. The team’s leading receiver is Keith Mixon. He has 255 receiving yards. That ranks No. 28 … in the SEC.
What’s your personal feeling about this game and how it’s going to go?
MSU has a decent shot — or as a good a shot as anyone else who is a 14.5-point underdog. I see the game ending up closer than that — yet still with Alabama winning — because I think MSU’s offense, which relies heavily on RPOs and deception, could find some success against Alabama’s linebackers, who are banged up.