Alabama Football will look to continue its two-game winning streak when it goes on the road for an SEC West bout in Starkville, Mississippi this week.
Under first-year head coach Zach Arnett, the Mississippi State Bulldogs are 2-2, having lost their first two league games. State was ill-fated to catch a hot LSU team to open SEC play, suffering a 41-14 home loss. It then went on the road to South Carolina and dropped a tough 37-30 decision.
The Mississippi State offense underwent a philosophical shift this offseason following the untimely passing of head coach and Air Raid innovator Mike Leach.
Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers obliterated the all-time SEC completions record in that Air Raid offense, and holds several school passing records including yards and touchdowns.
In the Bulldogs’ first three games, Rogers was almost unrecognizable, attempting just 24.7 passes for 164 yards per game. Against South Carolina, he began to resemble the Will Rogers of old, posting a Leach-esque stat line of 30-48 for 487 yards.
Mississippi State has leaned much more heavily on the run this season, led by senior Jo’Quavious Marks’ 352 yards and four touchdowns. Marks, who also plays a big role in the MSU passing game, has dealt with injury issues this season, due perhaps in part to the heavy workload.
The Bulldogs have other running backs they like, but no other back has even received 10 carries this season. If he is at full health, Marks is a dangerous weapon with over 1,600 career rushing yards, over 1,100 career receiving yards on a school-record 205 receptions, and 25 total touchdowns.
Other playmakers in the Bulldog passing game include seniors Lideatrick Griffin and Justin Robinson. Griffin leads the team with 20 receptions for 388 yards and three scores, while Robinson, a former Georgia transfer, has added 12 grabs for 144 yards.
By the numbers, the Mississippi State offense has been fairly average this year, posting 388 yards per game (74th nationally) and 30.8 points per game (58th). Its 245.8 passing yards per game rank 58th in the country, but this number could quickly change with Will Rogers seemingly finding his rhythm. Despite its relative emphasis on the run, MSU ranks 84th with just 142 rushing yards per game.
On paper, this should be an easier task for an Alabama Football defensive unit that just shut down a more potent Ole Miss offense. Still, Nick Saban himself has made it very clear that he views the Bulldogs as a formidable opponent that is not to be taken lightly.
If Mississippi State is to present a tough test for Alabama Football, it is more likely to do so against the Bama offense. The unit has had its share of struggles already this season, is led by an inexperienced quarterback, and is going into a hostile road environment for the first time. The good news for the Crimson Tide is that defense travels, and I think Bama just might have one of the best defenses in the country.