TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Heading into Alabama’s matchup against Mississippi State, we enlisted a little help to get a feel for the Bulldogs ahead of the game Saturday.
Michael Bonner covers Mississippi State for the Clarion-Ledger. Kickoff in Bryant-Denny Stadium is scheduled for noon ET on ESPN.
Michael Bonner, Clarion-Ledger
Question: Were the Mississippi State players and coaches as surprised as the general public that the Bulldogs beat Texas A&M, and what did they do well in that game?
Bonner: I don’t think they were as surprised. The coaches and players said they had their best week of practices leading into the matchup with Texas A&M. It carried over into the game. The offense played its best this season. It handed the defense an early lead, which allowed the unit to perform without having fear. The defense had been playing more not to lose rather than aggressively and looking to make plays.
Q: Dan Mullen’s name doesn’t seem to be mentioned among the hot coaching names anymore. Why do you think he stuck around when he could have jumped at another job, and how long do you think he’ll ultimately be in Starkville?
Bonner: Ultimately, I think it takes two to tangle. His name popped up as recent as last year but he was second or third on the list at Georgia and Miami. I think part of that is because he is in a very good situation in Starkville. He’s getting paid $4.2 million and in the midst of a 3-5 start, there was no question of job security whatsoever because of what he’s done in the past. Plus, I think he genuinely enjoys Starkville. So it would take a really good offer and situation to make him leave. How much longer will he be here? It’s always difficult to pinpoint a date. He has as long a leash as any coach in the SEC.
Q: How does Mississippi State plan to attack Alabama’s defense given that the Tide leads the nation in run defense and sacks?
Bonner: Mississippi State wants to mix it up. The coaches don’t want Alabama to get in a rhythm defensively. So Nick Fitzgerald will have three- and five-step drops. They’ll run up the middle, around the edge with the quarterback, running back and wide receivers. The key, Mullen said, was when a play is there to be made, Mississippi State has to take advantage because Alabama doesn’t offer many chances.
Q: Outside of the obvious, who are some Mississippi State players Alabama fans should know?
Bonner: Recently, Mark McLaurin has stood out on defense. He caught the game-sealing interception last week. He returned a fumble for a touchdown against Kentucky. He’s become a playmaker for the defense after starting the season as a reserve. The same is true for Aeris Williams at running back. He’s coming off his first career 100-yard rushing performance last week. He’s shown the best ability of any Mississippi State running back to sustain a running game consistently.
Q: What’s your feel for the game and score prediction?
Bonner: Dan Mullen has never beat Nick Saban. I don’t see that changing this week. No. 1 Alabama on the road will be too much for this young and inexperienced team. I’m not sure it will be close either. Alabama 31, MSU 7.