Mississippi State Bulldogs: 4 Players Who Will Be Key in Upsetting Alabama
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen has been working to get the Bulldogs to this moment since he arrived in Starkville in 2009.
The No. 13 Bulldogs (7-0, 3-0 in the SEC) travel to Tuscaloosa Saturday night to face the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (7-0, 4-0) in a huge SEC West showdown.
This is the defining moment of the season for Mississippi State and the defining moment of Mullen's career.
He has done a remarkable job rebuilding a program in what some argue is the toughest division, let alone toughest conference in college football. Mississippi State is off to its best start since 1999 and has quietly climbed into the top of the college football rankings.
The Bulldogs face an uphill battle this weekend against the Tide, but anything is possible in college football, especially in the SEC.
If Mississippi State wants to pull off the upset, these players will have to be key contributors against Alabama.
No one could have predicted that LaDarius Perkins would be the leading rusher in the SEC at this point in the season, especially with all the talented players in the conference.
Perkins leads the Bulldogs with 724 rushing yards on 125 carries. He's also scored eight touchdowns and will be relied on to help keep Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron off the field.
Mississippi State is going to have to control the clock to make sure this game does not get out of hand in a hurry. Perkins will need to be the catalyst to make that happen.
It is going to be a tough task. Alabama's defense is the best in the nation and has not allowed 100 yards rushing in a game this season. (h/t Rivals.com)
Patience and persistence will be key. If Perkins can take care of the football and take what is given to him, it will go a long way toward helping the Bulldogs pull off the upset.
Quarterback Tyler Russell has been efficient for Mississippi State this season. That will have to continue against Alabama if the Bulldogs have any chance of winning.
Russell has thrown for 15 touchdowns with only one interception while completing a little better than 60 percent of his passes. Along with Perkins, the junior signal-caller has led a balanced offensive attack.
Mississippi State has averaged 36.7 points a game, but points will be hard to come by against the top-rated scoring defense.
Russell will need to find a comfort zone quickly in a hostile environment. His job will be to make smart throws and look for more short, safe routes. He cannot afford to take a lot of chances and make any mistakes.
The offense sputtered in the first half against Middle Tennessee last week, but managed to find some rhythm after halftime as the Bulldogs went on to win 45-3.
If Mississippi State expects win against the Tide, Russell and the offense can't miss a single beat.
Not only does the offense have to be flawless, but Mississippi State's defense will have to be lights-out as well. That starts with senior cornerback and leader Johnthan Banks.
Alabama's A.J. McCarron is the nation's highest-rated quarterback. He has not thrown an interception all season and will take advantage of even the slightest mistake.
It is Banks' job to not allow that to happen. He is a playmaker in his own right. He returned the interception he made last week against Middle Tennessee for 46 yards before leaving the game with a knee injury.
That injury will not keep him from playing, however, and his presence makes a huge difference.
Turnovers will be critical for the Bulldogs. The team has forced 21 takeaways, including 12 interceptions, this season. (h/t SunHerald.com)
This week would be a good time for Banks to set the school's interception record and lead the Bulldogs to a victory.
Controlling A.J. McCarron is one thing, but trying to contain Alabama's running game is another.
Tide tailbacks Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon already have combined for more than 1,100 yards rushing and 13 rushing touchdowns. This two-headed rushing attack can't be stopped, it can only hoped to be contained.
That is where Benardrick McKinney comes in.
The redshirt freshman linebacker leads the team in tackles season with 55, 2.5 for loss.
Mississippi State has had trouble stopping the run at times this season. The Bulldogs have allowed more than 200 yards on the ground against Troy and Tennessee. Stopping Alabama's ground game will be this defense's biggest challenge yet.
McKinney will have to be a force. He is going to get a lot of opportunities to make plays and he will have to answer the call every time.
Lacy and Yeldon are difficult to bring down and once they hit some open field, there is no stopping them. Tackles will be at a premium, and McKinney will be looked upon to be the leader in that category for the Bulldogs.