Mississippi State is enjoying their fifth-straight week as the No. 1 team in the country. That could come to an end this Saturday. The Bulldogs head to “T-Town” for a showdown with Alabama, their cross-state rival, which has won three of the last five national championships.
“Bama” is what Mississippi State wants to become.
“Nick Saban has the model program in the country right now. They seem to be a team that is always in the championship discussion every single year. He has done a great job. Hopefully, we are building our program to be a consistent winner like they are,” said Dan Mullen during his Monday press conference.
Mullen is right about one thing: Alabama is the gold standard right now in college football. Everything they do is at an elite level. The way they recruit, train and play is done with the purpose of winning national titles.
The Bulldogs want to be at that level. That doesn’t happen overnight. And the Bulldogs surely won’t get the respect that comes along with a championship-caliber program overnight. Even with a 9-0 record and top ranking in every poll (AP, Coaches and College Football Playoff), their legitimacy is doubted.
The College Football nation is waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop where Mississippi State will become Mississippi State again…the laughingstock who everyone wants to schedule for homecoming.
I knew how real that mindset was last night when I was a panelist on the podcast “Tha SportsKrib.” I was lone person to predict a victory for Mississippi State tomorrow. And the fellow panelist didn’t just predict a victory for Alabama. …They predicted a blowout.
I was confounded at the lack of respect for Mississippi State and their current status in college football. But I had to remember prognosticators were saying the same thing before the LSU game. Bulldogs dominated. They said the same thing before the Texas A&M game. Bulldogs won by two touchdowns. They said the same again when the Bulldogs before the Auburn game. You guessed it, Bulldogs won again. I can’t leave out that all these games were top-10 matchups.
Coach Mullen is cognizant of the fact that there is still doubt out there about his program. “In every article you read, we are big underdogs heading into this game. We know that role. We are going to be ok with that. Our guys are going to come in with a chip on their shoulder and play with great effort. No matter what everyone else is predicting, we want to play that way every week,” Mullen said.
College Gameday is in town and CBS is carrying the 1 vs. 3 clash as their “Game of the Week.” So, if Mississippi State wants to prove the doubters wrong, they’ll get to do it on the national stage.
Three keys will determine if the Bulldogs will prove the doubters wrong.
- Win The Battle of the Trenches: Alabama and Mississippi State have passing attacks that can be explosive at times, but they’re both built around having strong play in the trenches. That’s where this game will be won. There are some potentially exciting individual matchups, as well.
Preston Smith vs. Cameron Robinson, A’Shawn Robinson vs. Dillon Day, Trey DePreist vs. Josh Robinson and Derrick Henry vs. Benardrick McKinney are all great storylines to follow.
I personally can’t wait to see Alabama’s and Mississippi State’s star running backs to meet their star linebackers in the hole. That’s some “Must-See” TV.
- Contain Amari Cooper: Mississippi State’s pass defense is starting to improve, but it’s still the weakness of their team and Cooper is the best receiver in college football with 79 catches, 1,215 yards and 11 touchdowns on the season. That doesn’t bode well for the Bulldogs.
Cooper won’t be stopped. But the Bulldogs have to contain him. I’d love to say stick Will Redmond on him and give the junior cornerback the challenge. But I don’t see one player shutting down Cooper. It’ll take a group effort.
If the Bulldogs contain Cooper, their chances of coming out of Tuscaloosa with a victory drastically increase.
- Handle the Big-Game Moment: This may seem like an odd key to the game. But it’s a real one. The Bulldogs haven’t played in premier game this late in the season maybe ever. As much as they can pump themselves up, the pressure will overcome them when they step on the field. Alabama is not going to give up their spot as the “elite” program in college football easily. They will hit the Bulldogs in the mouth. They will capitalize on every mistake. And they will darn sure bring their “A” game.
A couple of weeks ago, I asked: How would the Bulldogs respond when a team with the talent brought their “A” game?
We are about to find out tomorrow.
Are the “Dawgs” up for the challenge?
J.Short’s Hot Takes
- J.Rob’s touches were limited. So, Ashton Shumpert and Brandon Holloway got extended carries. They stepped up and had big days. While they were facing inferior competition, their strong days should be a confident boost for both players.
- With Justin Malone being held out, Devon Desper drew the start. The experience he gained could pay dividends before the season is over.
- Ryan Brown started off the season slow, but he’s picked up steam the past couple of games. He had another strong performance against UT-Martin with five tackles, one sack and two quarterback hurries.
- MSU’s pass defense continues to improve. If UT-Martin’s final drive isn’t taken into account, the Bulldogs would have held them to under 150 yards. That’s something to build on–especially when coupled with the Bulldog’s dominant front seven.
- Kudos to Coach Mullen for pulling out the bag of tricks with the fake punt the offensive line screen play. Maybe he’s giving a preview of what he’s got in store for Alabama.
- With Alabama being a downhill team, I’d like to see the trio of Benardrick McKinney, Christian Holmes and Beniquez Brown on the field together on Saturday.
J.Short’s Final Take
Mississippi State has one of the most versatile passing attacks in the nation—with six players over 200 yards on the season. Their leading receiver, De’Runnya “Bear” Wilson, hasn’t been seeing the ball much lately, though (Four catches for 48 yards the past three games.). I think that needs to change.
If Mississippi State is going to beat Alabama and finish their run toward the national title, they need to focus on getting Wilson the ball. He needs to see the ball at least five or more times a game during this end-of-season stretch.
Jeremiah Short, Peach State College Sports Contributor
Catch me on the “SportsKrib” on Wednesday’s 8-9 Central and Thursday’s 8-10 Central. Follow me on social media @DaRealJShort or check out my facebook page JShortJournalist or my Google Plus page J.Short- Journalist.