Bulldogs must ground Tide to spring upset

This weekend’s slate of college football games features a matchup of undefeateds that hardly anyone would have predicted before the season.

The Mississippi State Bulldogs, picked sixth out of seven teams in the SEC West in the media preseason poll, travel to Tuscaloosa to take on the Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday night.

To beat the nation’s number one team, Mississippi State will need to play a near-flawless game. Let’s take a look at two keys to the game for the Bulldogs in order to spring the upset and remain undefeated.

Win the turnover battle

Alabama is tied for third in the nation in turnover margin and leads FBS in points off turnovers this season. But its opponent is perhaps the one team that can compete with the Tide in this part of the game.

Highest Turnover Margin
This Season

Mississippi State leads the nation in turnover margin this season, having forced three or more turnovers in all but one game.

Their strength is in the secondary, where Darius Slay and Johnthan Banks are one of three pairs of cornerbacks in FBS with at least four interceptions each this season.

Alabama quarterback A.J McCarron is one of two FBS quarterbacks with 10 or more touchdowns and no interceptions this season. However, his last interception came on November 12 of last season when Mississippi State linebacker Cameron Lawrence picked him off.

Run the ball, stop the run

Dating back to 2010, Mississippi State is 20-1 when averaging at least four yards per carry (3-9 in all other games). However, the Bulldogs face perhaps their biggest challenge to reach that threshold this weekend.

Rushing in SEC Games This Season

No FBS team has averaged at least four yards per rush against the Crimson Tide since the start of the 2011 season.

Last year against Alabama, Mississippi State managed just 12 yards on 29 carries, the fewest rushing yards for the school since the 2008 season.

On the other side of the ball, Alabama leads the SEC in rush yards per game (236.3) and yards per rush (5.5) in conference games. Since the start of the 2008 season, the Crimson Tide are 44-0 when running for at least 150 yards.

This season, Mississippi State has allowed 3.6 yards per rush in SEC play, the fifth-lowest average in the SEC. No team has allowed fewer rushing touchdowns or fewer rushing first downs in conference games than the Bulldogs this season.

Last year Mississippi State thought it had contained the Tide’s ground game, holding Alabama to 94 yards on 27 carries (3.5 yards per rush) through the first three quarters. But, in the fourth quarter, Alabama erupted for 132 yards on 17 carries (7.6 yards per rush) in their 24-7 win.

The Bulldogs also must stop the run in order to slow the Tide’s potent play-action passing game. McCarron already has seven touchdown passes off play action passes, more than he had all last season.