Alabama Football: Just how good are the Bulldogs?


Saturday night the team Alabama Football has beaten the most comes to Bryant-Denny. The Crimson Tide holds the lead in the old series at 86-17-3. Less than two weeks before the first game in the series, William McKinley had been elected President. In that 1896 election, the electoral votes from the state of Alabama went to the Democratic challenger, William Jennings Bryan.

Enough of ancient history, how good are the Mississippi State Bulldogs in 2022? That’s a tough question in the always fluid world of college football. Making it more difficult is that predicting how a Mike Leach-coached team will perform is problematic. Throughout his 21 head coaching seasons, Leach’s teams have won when they were deemed heavy underdogs and lost when they were expected to have sure wins. Only twice in those 21 seasons has a Leach-coached team won more than nine games. At Mississippi State, Leach’s record is 4-7, 7-6 and in this third season, the Bulldogs are 5-2.

Like the Crimson Tide, the Bullies are coming off an SEC road loss. Kentucky handled the Bulldogs, who had a problem also similar to the Crimson Tide by committing 13 penalties.

Leach is famous for using an ‘Air Raid’ offense that was invented before he became a coach. Leach learned the offense from LaVell Edwards at BYU. Leach was a BYU student but played rugby rather than football. Later Leach, while coaching with Hal Mumme, tweaked the BYU schemes, that had come from NFL passing attacks crafted decades earlier.

First Mumme, and later Leach became known as offensive wizards.

What Mike Leach has done well with his three college teams is make games easy for his quarterbacks and receivers. When at its best, the offense is close to unstoppable.

Alabama Football Defense has dominated Leach

For two Alabama Football defenses, Leach’s Air Raid has been quite stoppable. In two tries against the Tide, the Leach wizardry has produced nine points. Mississippi State was shut out in 2020 and managed only three field goals in 2021.

Those results and other games in Leach’s first two Mississippi State seasons have prompted claims the offense is neutralized by the athletic abilities of SEC defensive backs. Even if that claim is true, Leach has adapted. His Bulldogs’ defense, run by DC Zach Arnett is tough and opportunistic. The Bulldogs lead the SEC in Turnover Margin at +5, having created 14 turnovers. They are also No. 1 in the SEC with nine interceptions, led by Emmanuel Forbes with five picks.

The Bulldogs run sparingly and are likely to do so even less against the Crimson Tide. Their offensive engine is the quick decisions of QB, Will Rogers, and his 72.1% passing accuracy.

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Can Mississippi State seriously threaten Alabama in Tuscaloosa? Nick Saban will give an unequivocal yes. That seems unlikely, but Leach might finally get some touchdowns on the Crimson Tide.