Alabama vs. Mississippi State: Marquee Players in SEC Bout

Andrew GouldFeatured ColumnistNovember 16, 2013

TUSCALOOSA, AL - NOVEMBER 09:  T.J. Yeldon #4 of the Alabama Crimson Tide scores a touchdown in the third quarter against the LSU Tigers at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 9, 2013 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

When the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide take the field, the final outcome is rarely in doubt. But when they travel to Mississippi State to take on the Bulldogs, well, they're still a near lock to win. 

Alabama has dominated all of its opponents, with the exception of a narrow victory against Texas A&M. It is cruising down a clear path to the BCS Championship game, as long as the prestigious school takes care of its business.

Mississippi State will attempt to create some potholes down that road, but the club has dropped to 4-5 after losing to two ranked opponents in South Carolina and Texas A&M. If those teams are too much for the Bulldogs, the same will likely be true for the Crimson Tide.

Nevertheless, they play the games for a reason. These playmakers will look to sway the outcome of this SEC feud on Saturday night.



QB AJ McCarron

TUSCALOOSA, AL - NOVEMBER 09:  AJ McCarron #10 of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates a touchdown rush by T.J. Yeldon #4 in the third quarter against the LSU Tigers at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 9, 2013 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Co
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

If AJ McCarron wants to make a serious push for the Heisman, now is the time to pad his numbers.

The senior quarterback has played remarkably efficient football for Alabama, completing 69.4 percent of his passes with 8.9 passing yards per attempt. Yet his tallies don't stack up to Jameis Winston, Johnny Manziel and Marcus Mariota.

Last week, Mississippi State surrendered 446 passing yards and five touchdowns to Manziel during a 51-41 loss. McCarron won't receive the chances to plot the same coordinates, but it would at least be nice to see him exceed 200 yards.

He has fired 13 touchdowns to zero interceptions over his last five games, including a game against Georgia State in which he misfired on just one passing attempt. His precision is enough to fuel his team to victory, but it probably won't warrant individual accolades unless he dials up the yards.


RB T.J. Yeldon

Blame T.J. Yeldon for hindering McCarron's Heisman chances.

During his second season, Yeldon has gained 862 rushing yards with 12 touchdowns on 140 carries, taking away from his quarterback's numerical output. He shined as the focal point of the offense against LSU, turning 25 carries into 133 yards and two touchdowns during his team's 38-17 win.

When Alabama faces a worthy adversary, Yeldon receives a heavy workload. He was also afforded 25 handoffs during the win over Texas A&M. With that in mind, don't expect Nick Saban to run his star running back into the ground for this one.

Still, he makes the most of his touches, so 15-20 carries is more than enough for him to implant his dent on this matchup. Yeldon is an underrated star who has scored in all but four games during his collegiate career.


Mississippi State

QB Dak Prescott

COLLEGE STATION, TX - NOVEMBER 09:  Dak Prescott #15 of the Mississippi State Bulldogs looks to pass against the Texas A&M Aggies at Kyle Field on November 9, 2013 in College Station, Texas.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

On the other side, Mississippi State boasts a dual-threat quarterback lacking in accuracy but loaded with athleticism.

Dak Prescott has completed an uninspiring 58.4 percent of his passes, throwing seven passing touchdowns to as many interceptions. But he makes a multitude of plays with his feet, recording 722 rushing yards and 10 scores on the ground.

Although the sophomore's status for Saturday is questionable, the AP's David Brandt said he received a thumbs up from offensive coordinator Les Koenning.

It will take a perfect game from Prescott's arm and legs to keep up with the Crimson Tide.


LB Benardrick McKinney

BATON ROUGE, LA - NOVEMBER 10: Odell Beckham #3 of the LSU Tigers runs past Benardrick McKinney #50 of the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Tiger Stadium on November 10, 2012 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  The Tigers defeated the Bulldogs 37-17.    (Photo by Ch
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Mississippi State's defense was thoroughly humiliated by Texas A&M last weekend. Alabama will likely not bother to break 50, but it will look to burn the defense out with a precise passing game and pummeling ground attack.

Sophomore Benardrick McKinney, the Bulldogs' leader in tackles (55) and sacks (2.5) needs to bring his A-game to the field on Saturday night.

During their 38-7 loss to Alabama last season, McKinney collected just four tackles and a sack, but he then collected 38 tackles in the ensuing four regular season games. He has emerged as one of the team's defensive leaders this season, a role he must embrace under the spotlight. 

McKinney will look to be part of the solution to containing the Crimson Tide ground game that has averaged 208.8 rushing yards per game this season.