Saturday’s matchup between Mississippi State and Alabama has serious implications for both teams, if for different reasons.
Alabama is expected to come out of Starkville on Saturday with a solid win. A loss, or potentially even an overtime win, could seriously hurt the Crimson Tide’s chances in the College Football Playoff.
For Mississippi State, a victory would be monumental. The Bulldogs have sustained two deflating losses — against LSU and at Texas A&M — but seem to have bounced back in impressive fashion. Would a win against the Crimson Tide put MSU in the Playoff discussion? Probably not. But it would go a long way towards improving the Bulldogs’ bowl situation.
Here’s what else you need to know about Saturday’s game:
No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide (8-1) at No. 17 Mississippi State Bulldogs (7-2)
Kickoff: Sat., Nov. 14, 3:30 p.m. ET (CBS)
Weather: 63 degrees, 0 percent chance of rain (Weather.com)
Line: Alabama -7.5
By the numbers
8 – Years since the Bulldogs last bested the Crimson Tide. It was Nov. 10, 2007. Mississippi State was 5-4 on the season. Alabama was 6-3. Late in the second quarter, a Mississippi State field goal cut a 9-0 Alabama lead down to a one-score game. But with 21 seconds left in the half, the Crimson Tide had a third-and-goal with the ball on the two-yard line. Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson dropped back on a play-action, but it didn’t fool the MSU defense. Rushed, Wilson tossed the ball to the right side of the endzone, right into the arms of Mississippi State’s Anthony Johnson. Johnson took off, running endzone-to-endzone to give the Bulldogs a lead they would not relinquish. Mississippi State won 17-12.
75.7 – Opponents rushing yards per game against Alabama. Alabama’s rushing defense is the second best unit in the country, behind only Boston College. Since Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott has limited his rushing attempts in favor of staying in the pocket, the Bulldogs are down to just 147.11 yards per game on the ground — 95th in the country.
1 – Number of interceptions Prescott has thrown this season. Last year against Alabama, Prescott tossed three disastrous picks. He had 11 interceptions on the year. This season, Prescott’s decision-making has skyrocketed. He’ll need to stay mistake-free against the Crimson Tide secondary — a squad with 13 picks on the season, good for 13th best in the nation — if Mississippi State is going to stand a chance.
17-4 – Alabama’s record against SEC West teams the past four years. There’s no question the Crimson Tide have dominated the division the past four years (and then some). The only team in the West that seems to have Alabama’s number is Ole Miss, who has beaten the Crimson Tide twice in the past two years. Can the Bulldogs find some of that Mississippi magic Saturday?
Storylines to watch
What will Derrick Henry’s workload look like?
Henry rushed a career-high 38 times for 213 yards and three scores against LSU last week. In the postgame presser, coach Nick Saban said Henry would need some backup after last week’s performance. Senior Kenyan Drake added 10 rushes for 72 yards against LSU, but Saban also mentioned freshman Bo Scarbrough as an option. Could Scarbrough — who has seen very limited time due to an ACL tear in the spring and an NCAA suspension in the beginning of the season — have a breakout game on Saturday?
Can Dak Prescott finally beat Alabama in what is probably his last chance?
In an illustrious four-year career, Prescott has gone 21-8 as a starter for Mississippi State and beaten every team in the SEC West but Alabama. The Crimson Tide spoiled what had been a perfect season for Prescott and the Bulldogs last year. Will the senior quarterback have any extra fire in his eyes on Saturday?
Prediction: Alabama 28, Mississippi State 21
This game will be emotional, it will be exciting, and it will be close. Alabama can shut down Mississippi State’s running game with relative ease, but thanks to Prescott’s proclivity to stay in the pocket this season, that will be less of an issue for MSU than it was last year. Still, Alabama’s pass defense is the 25th-best in the nation, so there won’t be any easy points there either. Mississippi State is a solid team — perhaps a very good one — and they’ve got quite a bit of momentum going into the game, but it won’t be enough to hold back the Tide.