Mississippi State (7-0, 3-0) is ranked 11th in the latest BCS poll and will make a familiar trip down Hwy 82 this Saturday to Tuscaloosa, Ala. for a 7:30 CT contest with defending National Champion and No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide.
The game will be broadcast by ESPN and the Bulldogs are garnering no respect from the media and Vegas as the betting lines have the Bulldogs as 24-point underdogs.
I am not about to sit here and tell you how Mississippi State will beat Alabama because if the two played 10 times, odds are Bama could very well win all 10. What we are seeing Nick Saban do with the Crimson Tide is as close to a dynasty in college football as it gets. They seem to have no weaknesses and live off other teams' mistakes.
So does this mean the Bulldogs should just head to Tuscaloosa for some barbecue and head back home? Absolutely not.
The Bulldogs have been in this situation before with the Tide and played Alabama into the fourth quarter last year down only 10-0. Bulldog head coach Dan Mullen and his staff will have this team prepared as they have all season, and if the Bulldogs want to again take this game into the fourth quarter with a punchers chance at the end, then three things must happen.
1. Attack Alabama's Offense
This is a given and nothing new. Alabama loves to pound the football with their great running backs and superior offensive line. They also have a quarterback in AJ McCarron who has been flawless this year. It all starts with stopping Alabama's running game and the Bulldogs must commit a safety, a combination of players and schemes to stop the Bama rushing attack.
The big cue for the Bulldogs is when you do this you have to play man to man defense, and there are no two corners better in the SEC than Jonathan Banks and Darius Slay. Both are tied for the league lead with four interceptions apiece and they will be the best set of corners McCarron could face all season.
Throw in a very versatile Nickoe Whitley and Corey Brumfield, and this secondary could end up giving McCarron fits if the Bulldogs force him to have to make plays throwing the football.
2. Win the Turnover Battle and Field Position
If you are going to even think about keeping a game close with a team like Alabama, you have to win the field position battle first. This means you have to at the best position, generate some first downs and move the chains and if you have to punt, make Alabama go 70 or 80 yards to score every time.
The Bulldogs' Baker Swedenburg has done all that Dan Mullen has asked this year, averaging 40.6 yards per punt. When the Bulldogs stall on offense it is important for Swedenburg to continue to flip the field.
Another thing the Bulldogs need to do is continue to win the turnover battle.
The Bulldogs lead the country in turnover margin as they have intercepted 12 footballs this year and recovered nine fumbles. Conversely, the Bulldogs have only turned the ball over four times this year. For State to have any chance in this game, they have to create opportunities through forcing a fumble or doing something that has yet to be done this season; that is pick off AJ McCarron.
3. Remember Green is the Color of Money and Malcom is in the Middle
Coming into this game Alabama leads the SEC with 13 interceptions, and if there is a secondary comparable to the one the Bulldogs boast, it is Alabama. Bulldog quarterback Tyler Russell will have to be careful throwing against the ball hawks in crimson this week. But if Russell has an advantage in the passing game, it is his two tight ends in Malcolm Johnson and Marcus Green.
The dynamic tight end duo has combined for six touchdowns this year, and the Bulldogs just got Johnson back a few weeks ago after suffering an arm injury in the preseason. Johnson, who is the more athletic of the two, and Green, the veteran sixth year senior brings size, speed and agility to the middle of the field. Both are problems for most linebackers.
Alabama has arguably the best linebackers in the country but if Russell can get Green and Johnson the ball often, that will help free up wide receiver Chad Bumphis and should help soften that front seven for the Bulldog running game.
What we are witnessing at Alabama is remarkable. The rate at which Nick Saban is recruiting high-level players, developing them, sending them to the pro ranks and winning football games is nothing short of amazing.
Dan Mullen has taken Mississippi State from SEC also-ran to mid-tier SEC status in a little under four years.
The Bulldogs have always given Alabama their best shot and I expect the same effort from the Bulldogs this Saturday night. The Bulldogs will be the most physical team the Tide has played thus far in 2012. Will that be enough for the Bulldogs to do the unthinkable? I wouldn't bet on it but if the Bulldogs win the turnover margin, can flip the field, and play to their strengths—do not be surprised to see a tight ballgame heading into the fourth quarter and some very concerned Alabama fans sitting at Bryant Denny stadium.