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You could say that MSU and Alabama are thinking the same thing right now. That very thought, is that neither expected to be 7-2 at this point in the season. For MSU, 2010 was viewed by many as a stepping stone year. Most in the media, forecasted that Mullen and the Bulldogs would still be another season away from tasting success. Alabama was picked to pretty much repeat, or finish amongst the nation’s top 5. Here we are, deep in College Football’s 11th week of the season, and it appears that Bama will have to wait, but MSU appears ahead of schedule. With that said though, #17 MSU heads into possibly it’s toughest test of the season. Though #11 Bama is banged up, and a year removed from their National Title, a lot of the same pieces remain. Both the Bulldogs and the Tide are coming off a difficult stretch, but losing a teammate trumps all circumstances in sports. Bama had their post season title hopes crushed in Baton Rouge, while Mississippi State’s Nick Bell lost his short battle with cancer. What was supposed to be a week of ‘cleaning’ up various aspects of their game, turned out to be a week of grieving for the Dawgs. The fact is, Saturday’s match up is going to come down to one thing, and that’s ‘mindset’.
With that said, I figured·that we’d take a look at what the experts at College Gameday Stats have to say. Just a reminder that you can get their weekly insight and newsletter, by emailing them at email@example.com:
MSU Scoring vs Bama Opponent’s Scoring- Advantage Bama
MSU Pass Off. vs Bama Pass Def.- Advantage Bama
MSU Rush Off. vs Bama Rush Def.- Advantage MSU
Bama Scoring vs MSU Opponent’s Scoring- Advanatage MSU
Bama Pass Off. vs MSU Pass Def.- Advantage Bama
Bama Rush Off. vs MSU Rush Def.- No Advantage
Odds- Bama 13.5 pt Favorites
College Gameday Stats’ Pick to Win- MSU
Edge: MSU’s Defense
My Thoughts: Alabama is still Alabama. Tuscaloosa is still Tuscaloosa. If MSU is going to have any shot to win·at Bryant-Denny, not only will they have to channel their emotions related to losing Nick Bell, but they’ll have to take the crowd out of the game as much as possible. Hopefully, Mullen has prepared the Bulldogs the same way he did for the Florida game, and State will come out and make a statement early. Rumor has it that Tide RB Trent Richardson may not see action on Saturday, but that still leaves a ‘banged-up’ Heisman in Ingram, in the Bama back field. With Richardson out, or seeing limited playing time, look for Freshman Eddie Lacy to fill in. Lacy is dangerous for a youngster, posting a 6+ yd average, and 3 TDs on the year. As far as Bama’s passing game, WR Julio Jones brings the size and experience needed to dominate in the SEC, while Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks are just a step away from hurting you deep. QB Greg McElroy hadn’t lost since the 8th grade before this season started, but has lost twice this season already. McElroy is a consistent leader though, and manages games very well. The Rhodes Scholar also enjoys hitting his TE Preston Dial, and his RBs in dump-off or emergency outlet situations. Richardson’s absence could be felt just as much in this area, as it is in Bama’s run game. As far as Bama’s D is concerned, they are strong amongst the front 7, and rank17th in the country as a whole (307 ypg). If the group has one weakness, it has to be their Secondary, who allows just over 180 passing ypg. The Bulldogs boast the nation’s 14th ranked Rushing attack, with 3 capable ball handlers. QB Chris Relf, RBs Vick Ballard, and LaDarius Perkins, have a knack for finding running lanes, and the second level with ease. Coming off of a bye week, should mean that the Dawgs are healthy on the OL, and the RB’s legs should be rested and fresh. One negative for the Dawgs, is their passing game, which ranks 101st in the nation (164 ypg). I’m sure Mullen will be looking for ways to loosen up Bama’s front 7 through the air, and will have to do so to win. As effective as MSU’s Running game has been this season, the Dawg OL will see the most aggressive defense that they have seen, since LSU’s. If a team plans on being one dimensional vs Saban’s D, that pretty much means you should not get off the bus. Mullen noted that Chris Relf’s passing game was sharpened some during the bye week, and even Relf mentioned his need for a bigger role in this week’s game. On defense, Mullen, as well as fans, have used the term bend but don’t break, to refer to the D’s consistent performances. Diaz’s group, does just that. Limiting big plays, focusing on Bama’s strengths, and holding them to FGs, is what I expect the Dawg D to do. I also wonder if Mullen will use QB Tyler Russell in some passing situations? Even though, I have complete faith in Relf to lead.
KEYS to VICTORY? (1) Win the Trenches- I think this is probably the oldest football cliche’, but it’s simply the key to winning any and every football game. On D, DLs Fletcher Cox, Josh Boyd, Sean Fergeson, James Carmon, Shane McCardell, and Pernell McPhee have to disrupt Bama’s back field with penetration. And, as I always note, they must also open up the blitzing lanes for incoming Bulldogs to make plays. Not only could they slow down Ingram and Co., but McElroy has struggled the past couple of weeks when facing pressure. The DL will have a lot do with whether or not those two focuses become a reality. Penetrate, disrupt, and free-up. (2) Mix it Up- Non-predictable play-calling. I seriously think that this is the best coaching staff that the Bulldogs will face off against in 2010. So, with that said, MSU will have to attack Bama in various ways, not just with the Run game. Battling not just on the field, but over the headsets as well, means that Mullen and his staff, will have to have timely play-calling that attacks Bama in vulnerable moments. I look for some forms of trickery for State, but nothing excessive. Rather, different variations and extensions of Bulldog Pass and Run game. RB screens (please), option reverses, etc. On D, Diaz will have to dial up multiple looks to confuse a smart QB. (3) Win the Turnover Battle- State’s offense has not turned the ball over since the Alcorn State game (5 weeks ago), and Relf hasn’t thrown an INT since the LSU game (Week 3). Relf must play smart, throw the ball away at times, and keep the ball away from Dre Kirkpatrick and Robert Lester (8 INTs total). If I’m not mistaken, Ingram and Richardson have 3 fumbles total over their careers. So, it’s pretty clear that State is going to have to pressure McElroy in order to force Bama to turn the ball over. This game will be a Time of Possession battle, and protecting the ball keeps the clock on your side. The last few games, State’s opponents have taken the Dawgs somewhat out of their element in this facet, turning their own strength against them. If Bama holds the ball, and forces MSU into desperate possessions, then the Dawgs will be in trouble. State’s best chance, is to force Bama into the kind of game they forced UF into, earlier in the year. (4) Solid Special Teams-If Richardson plays, State must crack down on his big play abilities in the return game, and keep Bama from establishing themselves with good field position.·For MSU, Chad Bumphis, Mo Langston, and LaDarius Perkins must create· big plays in the return game. And, State’s kickers must shine when called on. On a sidenote, MSU’s D must keep Bama out of chip-shot range on FG tries, since the Tide has 2 capable kickers. (5) Frustrate the Bama Run Game- MSU and Bama, do one thing really well, and that’s wear down opposing D’s with their run game. The same way that MSU runs the read option until they bust off a long one, is the same thing Bama does with Ingram and Richardson out of their pro-set. Diaz has done an excellent job of taking away a team’s strength, and with Bama the Run will be the key. Take away the rhythm they seek on the ground, try to force them to be one dimensional, and pressure McElroy when he drops back.
My Prediction: MSU 23 Bama 20. I think it’s clear that MSU has turned the corner, and I seriously think they want more. Being bowl eligible, and surpassing last year’s win total, is not where this team·wants to stop. State will play with more heart and emotion this week, playing in Nick Bell’s memory. Not only that, but Mullen has this team ‘expecting to win’ these games now. The Bulldogs seem to be catching Bama at the perfect time, and in an unfamiliar situation for the Tide. Who are not used to bouncing back from losses. I can see State running the ball with success, and passing for the needed yards and balance. I am predicting that State picks of McElroy twice (KJ Wright & Corey Broomfield), and Derek DePasquale boots the game winning FG, early in the 4th quarter. Diaz’s D comes through with a stop to close the game.
TSUN @ UT 28-24
Vandy @ UK 41-20
UGA @ Auburn 23-21
South Car @ UF 31-17
*Latest on the Cam Newton SAGA! Link
*MSU’s Charles Mitchell will honor Nick Bell, by wearing Bell’s #36 jersey on Saturday.