There are currently three undefeated teams remaining in the SEC, but one of those teams is guaranteed to have a loss by the end of Week 9.
The undefeated Mississippi State Bulldogs will travel to Bryant-Denny Stadium to take on the No. 1-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide. This will be the first ranked team that Mississippi State has played all season and will be the first road test to prove if head coach Dan Mullen has a true SEC contender on his hands.
Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee wrote earlier about why the Bulldogs have absolutely no chance in the matchup, but if we have learned anything from college football, especially over the last couple of weeks, it is that any team can win on Saturdays.
Despite not given much of a chance, here are three things that Mississippi State can do to knock off their first ranked team since the 2010 season.
Win the Turnover Battle
It's no secret. The Bulldogs are enormous underdogs and will have to play a perfect game in order to give themselves a chance in this contest. One of the ways that an upset can happen is if the defense can force a few turnovers and give the offense the ball in decent field position.
Mississippi State is actually one of two teams in the SEC that has forced more turnovers than Alabama (21). In fact, the 2.29 turnover margin isn't just the best in the conference, but it is the best in all of college football. The Bulldogs have forced at least three turnovers in six of their seven games, which is absolutely remarkable.
Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell knows how important turnovers are going to be in this game, according to Chase Goodbread of The Tuscaloosa News.
"Definitely the game is going to come down to who makes the least amount of mistakes," said Russell. "Both teams have done an outstanding job so far this year of eliminating those mistakes."
And while relying on turnovers is a dangerous way to live on the defensive side of the ball, we have seen teams survive off of the turnover margin in the past. Sure, quarterback A.J. McCarron has yet to throw an interception, and the Crimson Tide have only turned the ball over six times in seven games.
But the junior quarterback also has yet to face two ball-hawking cornerbacks such as Darius Slay and Johnthan Banks, who have a combined eight interceptions this season. If the Bulldogs can continue to create big plays on the defensive side of the ball, they will certainly make this game interesting.
Develop Some Sort of a Running Game
I think everybody has seen enough of the Alabama defense to know that your offense can't be one-dimensional and expect to win. The Bulldogs actually have one of the more balanced offenses in the SEC, but also have yet to face a defense of this caliber in 2012.
Russell has done a good job of managing the game for the Bulldogs this season, throwing for 15 touchdowns and one interception, but he is only completing 60 percent of his passes. He will need somebody to help him out and move the chains against a defense that makes you work for every little inch.
Running back LaDarius Perkins will be that guy as the junior is averaging close to six yards a carry and has eight touchdowns. He has produced seven plays of over 20 yards, has picked up 35 first downs and has topped 100 yards rushing in four of the last five games. Perkins is a shifty runner that breaks arm tackles with ease and is capable of breaking off a few big runs if the defense doesn't remain disciplined.
Mississippi State is currently averaging 4.8 yards a carry on the ground, but rushed for just 12 yards in last year's loss to Alabama. If Perkins can help get the running game going and get this Alabama defense out of its comfort zone, the Bulldogs' chances to pull off an upset increase.
Keep Game Close and Finish It
Sure, Alabama has won four straight games against Mississippi State and nine of the last 11. Sure, eight of those nine victories have been by at least 14 points, while three of the last four have been by at least 20 points. And of course, the Bulldogs are underdogs by at least three touchdowns depending on where you look.
“They always play tough against us,” Saban said Monday in Tuscaloosa. “They don’t play OK against us, they play good. We struggled as much against them last year as anybody we played against.”
Despite losing last year’s meeting by a score of 24-7, the Bulldogs only trailed 10-0 heading into the fourth quarter. The offense was also able to produce 299 total yards in 2010, including 149 yards on the ground, which was the third-most rushing yards allowed by that unit that season.
When you are an underdog, all you want to do is keep things close heading into the fourth quarter, which at least gives you a chance to pull off an upset. Considering this year’s Bulldogs team is better than last year's, I'm sure this team would take another close contest heading into the final 15 minutes.
Mississippi State now just has to find a way to finish it.
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