A key SEC West matchup is on tap in
Tuscaloosa this weekend, as the top-ranked and undefeated Alabama Crimson Tide
play host to the 13th-ranked and equally unblemished Mississippi State
Bulldogs at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Nick Saban's squad is atop all the national polls, as well as the BCS
standings heading into this week. The defending national champions have
certainly shown themselves capable of repeating, making light work of all the
competition in 2012 thus far. The team moved to 7-0 overall and 4-0 in the SEC
with last weekend's 44-13 blasting of Tennessee in Knoxville.
The Bulldogs have been unbeatable under head coach Dan Mullen in 2012, as MSU
has also won all seven of its contests as well. The team is 3-0 in league play
and enters off a lopsided non-conference win over Middle Tennessee (45-3). The
team is off to its best start since 1999 and has only gone 7-0 to start a
season twice in 113 years of football.
This marks the 97th meeting in this series, with Alabama holding a decisive
74-18-3 advantage. The Tide have won four straight in the series and nine of
the last 11 meetings overall.
Offensive balance has certainly been a key component of MSU's success thus
far. The Bulldogs are averaging an impressive 36.7 ppg, thanks to a steady mix
of the run (180.4 ypg) and the pass (236.4 ypg).
Tyler Russell's efficient play under center is another strength of this unit,
as the junior has completed just over 60 percent of his passes, for 1,573
yards, with 15 touchdowns against just one interception. Senior wideout Chad
Bumphis is the team's top receiving threat, with 29 catches, for 479 yards and
six TDs on the season.
MSU's ground attack is in the capable hands of junior tailback LaDarius
Perkins, who has already churned out 724 yards on 5.8 yards per carry, with
The Bulldog defense has more than held its own in 2012, ranking ninth
nationally in scoring defense (14.4 ppg), 21st in pass defense (188.6 ypg) and
25th in total defense (327.7 ypg). In addition, the defense has recorded 21
takeaways, including 12 interceptions.
Senior cornerbacks Johnthan Banks (33 tackles) and Darius Slay (23 tackles)
lead the charge in that regard with four INTs each. Redshirt freshman
linebacker Bernardrick McKinney has made an immediate impact with a team-high
Mullen knows his team has an uphill battle heading into Tuscaloosa.
"It should be a great challenge for us playing a team that does not show many
weaknesses. They are very well coached, well-disciplined and filled with
talent at every position. They have had a top recruiting class for each of the
last four or five years. Everyone on their roster is a four or five star
prospect. They get those guys in position to make plays and have a real
physical team. They don't make many mistakes and do not turn the ball over.
They pound on you and pound on you and wait for you to make a mistake as the
game goes on. It should be a great challenge for our guys as we will have to
play our best game of the year."
A.J. McCarron is not among the Heisman favorites, but perhaps he should be.
The senior signal-caller has made it look easy at times this season and comes
into this contest having completed 68.8 percent of his passes, for 1,476 yards
and 16 TDs. He has also yet to throw an interception, as Alabama and Louisiana
Tech are the only teams in the country without an interception to their
credit. The team is also lethal in the red zone, converting 30-of-31
opportunities (23 TDs, 7 FGs) to lead the nation with a 97 percent rating.
Saban has been impressed with his signal-caller.
"AJ has played very well for us. He hasn't turned the ball over. Makes a lot
of good choices and decisions, his passing efficiency has been really good. I
think AJ has been a really good leader for us, affected the other players on
the team and the last couple of weeks I think we have really come together a
little better offensively, in terms of consistency and balance."
It certainly takes the pressure off to have a dominant ground attack once
again. The Crimson Tide are churning out 219.4 yards per game on 5.3 yards per
carry. They are getting great production from Eddie Lacey (570 yards, 5.7 ypc,
seven TDs) and freshman T.J. Yeldon (565 yards, 6.8 ypc, six TDs).
As efficient as the offense has been, the Alabama defense is still the side of
the football that gets the most attention and rightfully so. The Crimson Tide
lead the nation in just about every defensive category, including scoring
defense (8.3 ppg), rush defense (58.7 ypg) and total defense (195.6 ypg).
Junior C.J. Mosley has played at an All-American level in the linebacking
corps, leading the defense with 58 total tackles, with 2.5 sacks, two
interceptions and one fumble recovery. Fellow LBs Trey DePriest and Nico
Johnson are a distant second on the team, tied with 30 tackles apiece.
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