5 Reasons Mississippi State Could Beat Alabama This Weekend
It's been called the 90-Mile Drive and the Battle for Highway 82 that connects these SEC schools.
Whatever you call it, the Alabama-Mississippi State annual contest brings high stakes in its 2010 incarnation.
For MSU, defeating Alabama in Tuscaloosa will move them into third place in the SEC West and propel them in the BCS and national rankings. It's already a season to remember in Starkville, and beating the Tide will only cap it off--almost being sweeter than beating hated rival Ole Miss.
For the Crimson Tide, their season now hangs on whether or not they can pick up the shattered pieces of a once-promising run for a consecutive national championship game appearance. With that dream gone, the Tide must decide if it shows up or folds its collective tents and waits 'till next year.
In one of the oldest SEC rivalry games (the series began in 1896), Alabama has an overwhelming advantage in wins.
But in the past fourteen meetings, the Bulldogs have emerged victorious in six of them, including two of the last four.
For the following five reasons, it is possible that this year, the Bulldogs will win again.
Reason No. 1: Dan Mullen
Dan Mullen has the Bulldogs on a rapid pace to become an elite team nationally. Already, even though he's been on the job a mere two years, he has posted a 12-9 record in the toughest part of the SEC, and his record so far this year is 7-2.
Exactly like Alabama.
The 38 year old Mullen, as we all know, was the right hand of Urban Meyer even more than Tim Tebow was during Florida's run of two national championships in three years. Arguably, Florida has not been Florida since Mullen left.
To prove that point, Mullen and his Bulldogs beat his mentor and the Gators earlier this year.
Exactly like Alabama.
And he can recruit; his first full recruiting year in Starkville saw a national ranking of 19th by Scout.com. The 2011 class is already coming in at number 22 on the Rivals.com board.
Coach Nick Saban acknowledged the job Mullen and his staff have done at MSU in his weekly press remarks on Monday. "Mississippi State has a very good team," Saban said. "Dan Mullen has done an exceptionally good job there."
"They've lost to two teams in the top-10, in very close games. This is a good team," Saban added.
With better players and a coach who can motivate, State looks to be on the way to competing for the SEC West crown soon.
And it could take a major step in that direction by beating 'Bama Saturday. If any coach could do it, Mullen could.
Reason No. 2: Defense
Despite being known for his offensive prowess, Mullen has his Bulldog charges playing even better defense than the LSU squad that stymied the Tide last Saturday.
"Their defense has played really well this year," Saban said."They're athletic, they can rush up front and they play hard. They've played with a lot of conviction all year long."
The defense is largely why State is ranked 17th in the AP poll and in the top 20 in the BCS rankings. Overall, it's a much improved squad.
But the Bulldogs have done much more than just improve.Through their first eight contests, the Bulldog D has impressed many nationally. State ranks 9th nationally in scoring(17.0 points per game allowed) and 14th in tackles for loss(7.44 per game) and 24th in turnovers gained (19).
And that's after the team got warmed up; over the past six games, the Bullies have 49 tackles for loss (8.2 per game) and have created 14 turnovers.
You're still not convinced? Don't believe us; believe Nick Saban. The MSU defense is enough to make coach Saban say, "This is one of the best teams that we'll play in our league this year." Saban concluded his remarks by asking the rhetorical question, "How are we going to move the ball against them?"
Reason No. 3: Alabama Injuries
It's a tale of two teams headed in opposite directions.
One, Mississippi State, has had a week off to prepare, rest, and repair.
The other, Alabama, is coming off a tough, physical loss in which several key players took beatings.
Case in point: Trent Richardson. For the first time in his young career, the Alabama running back took licks that finally slowed the team's workhorse. He's injured his knee earlier in the year, but the bruising he took from LSU's defense will limit him this week. The Tide may have to enter the game without him, or, at best, in a limited role. That means more reliance on an already suspect Mark Ingram who still, we don't care what anyone says, isn't the same back he was before he hurt his own knee.
D.J. Fluker is still battling a groin injury. Kerry Murphy's knee, too, is sore. Chris Jordan has had nagging injuries for some time.
And, to top it all off, quarterback Greg McElroy suffered a knee injury on the sack that caused him to fumble late in the game. At best, he won't be 100%.
All of this adds up to a battered and bruised Alabama squad limping into Bryant-Denny to face a well-rested State squad.
We don't like the looks of this, and it comes at a time the Tide can ill afford it.
Reason No. 4: MSU Can Run The Ball
These Bulldogs can run with the best of them.
Junior Vick Ballard has scored 13 touchdowns for the Bulldogs in his first season. Ballard has scored at least one touchdown in seven of his eight games played, and he remains tied for the SEC lead with an average of 8.6 points per game scored. He has had two game of three touchdowns each, and he's rushed for over 100 yards three times (plus one game with 98 yards).
The Tide may see another 100 yard rusher again this week against them. Ballard averages almost 7 yards per carry.
Junior quarterback Chris Relf has been no slouch himself when it comes to running the ball. The junior quarterback is the team’s second leading rusher; he has rushed over 20 times in a game three weeks, and MSU won all three of those games.
Think of him as Cameron Newton Light.
Derek Sherrod is a 6-6, 300 pound senior tackle who anchors the Bulldog offensive line. Sherrod is an all-SEC performer and an all-America candidate who has helped MSU rush for over 200 yards each of the past five games.
In the red zone, the Bulldogs are 26-34 (76.5%); 21 of those scores are touchdowns, and 16 of those touchdowns are rushes.
Yeah; they can run the ball.
The question is: Can the suspect Tide defense stop them?
Reason No. 5: The Tide Is Going Out
We'll let Nick Saban explain why Alabama got beat last week.
"When you play good teams and you don’t do things right you get exposed."
Well, coach, your pants are around your ankles.
Alabama football is reeling. We lost to South Carolina? Ok, we made excuses for that (week off, tired, third game against ranked opponent, perfect game plan by TOBC, etc.).
But then to lose to The Hat. Inexcusable.
In Saban's term, exposed.
Let Greg McElroy explain it.
"It is disappointing."
Wait, what? You just got your head handed to you by LSU and all you can come up with is, "It is disappointing"?
Fine, fine. Surely Marcel Dareus will have the definitive answer. Go, Marcel.
"It doesn’t matter what the outcome is."
Ok...Vlachos? Please restore some sanity here. Please?
"People aren’t really calling each other out and getting in everybody’s face."
Because this is now a team that is only playing out the string. The season's done for the Crimson Tide. Let's hope that somehow, Alabama pulls out a win against MSU, beats GSU, and doesn't get completely humiliated against a rising Auburn squad.
Otherwise, it's going to be a long winter.