WHO: (15) Mississippi State Bulldogs (6-3, 2-3 SEC) at (1) Alabama Crimson Tide (9-0, 6-0 SEC)
WHEN: 2:40 p.m.
WHERE: Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa
LINE: Alabama by 24
ON THE AIR: TV — CBS. Radio — WXFX-FM 95.1, WDXX-FM 100.1 WTLS-FM 106.5, WTLS-AM 1300
TWITTER: @_AlexByington, @mgmsports
1. Any more FitzMagic?: Mississippi State senior quarterback Nick Fitzgerald has seemingly been a thorn in the side of SEC defenses for the better part of the last three years, all except against Alabama. In their two previous matchups, the Crimson Tide have limited Fitzgerald to just 40 percent passing (23-of-57 combined) for 303 yards and zero touchdowns through the air. He hasn’t fared much better on the ground, averaging just 2.5 yards per carry and just one touchdown combined. If the Bulldogs are going to pull off the upset Saturday, it’ll start with a better overall performance from No. 7.
2. Williams wunderkind: Alabama redshirt sophomore nose guard Quinnen Williams has been called a ‘human highlight reel’ by some NFL scouts for what he’s done this season, his first as a full-time starter. The barely 300-pound interior lineman continues to dominate wherever he is on the field, including last weekend against LSU, earning the Walter Camp national player of the week and SEC defensive player of the week after his career-best 10 tackle, 2 ½-sack and 3 ½-tackle for loss game.
3. Sweatin’ it out: Bulldogs senior defensive end Montez Sweat is hailed as college football’s most feared pass rusher in the MSU weekly game notes, and the title might just be accurate. Sweat ranks third nationally and second in the SEC with 9 ½ sacks this season, and leads all Power 5 players with 20 sacks since 2017. Sweat and fellow All-SEC defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons will undoubtedly attempt to bring heavy pressure to rattle Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa on Saturday.
4. No takedown Tua: Tagovailoa has been transformative this season, and is widely considered the runaway favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. But while his stats have certainly been impressive, he’s been just as good under pressure, ranking as the nation’s seventh-best passer when blitzed according to Pro Football Focus. Tagovailoa has completed 58.8 percent (40-of-68) for 781 yards and seven touchdowns with just one interception when pressured, producing an NCAA quarterback rating of 186.33 per PFF.
Alabama DEs Isaiah Buggs and Raekwon Davis vs. MSU QB Nick Fitzgerald
As the case with most athletically-gifted/running quarterbacks, the key to slowing them down is keeping them contained within the pocket, and not allowing them to exploit a defense by scrambling. Which is why it’ll be important for the Crimson Tide defense to maintain pocket integrity and sort of smother Fitzgerald, even if it means sacrificing sacks. Fitzgerald’s proven an effective passer on the move, but is dynamic when he pulls the ball down and runs on his own, as evident by him being the SEC’s only 3,000-yard career rusher. Buggs ranks third in the SEC with 8 ½ sacks through nine games, while Davis has been more a run-stuffer, space-eater this season. If Alabama can keep Fitzgerald contained, as it’s done relatively well over the last two seasons, and Williams continues to dominate up the middle like he’s done this season, there’s little doubt it’ll limit what Mississippi State can do offensively, despite some talented players on that side of the ball.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
WR, So., 6-1, 192
While Tagovailoa has managed to spread the ball around more than in previous years, fellow sophomore receiver Jerry Jeudy has still found ways to assert himself as the alpha within the Tide’s talented receiving corps. A big-play threat no matter where on the field he is, Jeudy is third nationally and second in the SEC averaging 22.56 yards per catch this season. Jeudy’s 10 touchdowns leads the conference while his 880 receiving yards is second in the SEC and places him 10th all-time on Alabama’s single-season receiving list. Against Mississippi State, Jeudy will likely face one of the SEC’s most experienced secondaries, including 220-pound senior cornerback Jamal Peters. But as he’s proven time and time again, look for Jeudy to take advantage of his phenomenal foot work and create just enough space for Tagovailoa to get the ball in his hands repeatedly Saturday.
BY THE NUMBERS
9: The total number of touchdowns Mississippi State’s defense under coordinator Bob Shoop has allowed this season, which is fewest in the nation, to go along with the nation’s second-best scoring defense allowing just 12.3 points per game this season.
23: Alabama has won its last 23 straight games inside the friendly confines of Bryant-Denny Stadium to rank as the program’s second-longest home win streak in school history. The Tide won 24 straight home games at Bryant-Denny and Legion Field combined between Sept. 18, 1971 and Nov. 9, 1974.
900: Alabama’s 29-0 win at LSU last Saturday was the program’s 900th all-time victory, making it just the fourth program in FBS history to record 900 wins. Michigan is the all-time leader with 951 wins, followed by Ohio State and Texas at 906 and 904, respectively.
3,325: Fitzgerald’s career rushing mark to rank first all-time in the SEC among quarterbacks after surpassing former Florida great Tim Tebow’s career mark of 2,947 earlier this season against then-No. 6 Auburn.
Given the way Alabama has dominated the competition this season, it’s hard to see this one being close, no matter how sound Mississippi State’s defense has been. And it’s been elite, limiting opposing offenses to just 12.3 points per game this season to rank second nationally in scoring defense. But Tagovailoa has proven he can carve up even great defenses, and the Bulldogs defense surely hasn’t faced a quarterback of Tagovailoa’s talents this season. After watching its opening possession touchdown streak halted last week at LSU, don’t be surprised if Alabama comes out firing early Saturday in its return home and attacks Mississippi State’s senior-laded secondary right from the start. On the flipside, Fitzgerald will have a difficult time trying to move the ball against Williams and company, and could show some of the same signs of frustration that has plagued him in the past against Alabama. So, while the Bulldogs defense will undoubtedly settle into form, it might not come until after the Tide post a multi-touchdown advantage in the first half before turning to the ground game to slow things down. Expect another somewhat lopsided Alabama win Saturday, the 11th straight in their long-running series. Alabama 35, MSU 14