Mississippi State gets its shot at No. 2 Alabama when the Bulldogs play host to the Crimson Tide on Saturday night in Starkville.
Dan Mullen’s squad enters the contest on a four-game winning streak and owners of a No. 16 designation in the second edition of the College Football Playoff rankings. They’ll be attempting to accomplish a feat that just one team in the nation has been able to do in Alabama’s last 36 games, and that’s beat Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide.
The Bulldogs (7-2, 3-2 SEC) have arguably the toughest schedule in the SEC, if not the entire FBS. Mississippi State’s tilt with Alabama (9-0, 6-0 SEC) will mark the third opponent ranked inside the top 10 in the AP Top 25 that the Bulldogs will face this year.
And Dan Mullen’s team is holding their own against the treacherous slate. The Bulldogs have surrendered the fewest sacks (5) among Power 5 schools, have yet to fumble on offense, and lead the SEC with 4 defensive touchdowns (3 on interceptions, 1 fumble).
1. The quarterbacks
The matchup between Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald and Jalen Hurts of Alabama is one of the more dynamic quarterback contests in the SEC this year. Both can beat you with their arms, but are equal parts dangerous with their legs.
Fitzgerald leads all conference signal callers with 801 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns, followed by Hurts with 616 yards and 7 scores on the ground. The two are neck-in-neck when it comes to passing, as well. The junior Fitzgerald’s 1,459 yards and 13 passing touchdowns are enough to eke out the sophomore Hurts (1,406 yards, 10 touchdown) by 53 yards and 3 scores via the air.
Containing either Fitzgerald or Hurts will be paramount in picking up a victory in Starkville, especially if Mississippi State wants to pull off one of its biggest upsets in program history.
2. Series history
Dan Mullen is winless against Nick Saban in eight tries. Mississippi State, however, knows what it feels like to defeat Nick Saban. The Bulldogs dealt the Alabama coach a 17-12 loss during the 2007 season, Saban’s first year in Tuscaloosa. All told, the Crimson Tide hold a 78-16-3 edge over Mississippi State in a rivalry that dates to 1902.
3. The opening line
Alabama opens as a 2-touchdown favorite over Mississippi State.
4. Player to watch
OLB Montez Sweat: Montez Sweat has a tackle-for-loss in each of his last five games, including a pair of sacks last week in Mississippi State’s 31-17. The junior from Stone Mountain, Ga., has nine take-downs behind the line of scrimmage, tying him with Vanderbilt’s Charles Wright for No. 11 in the SEC. Of those tackles-for-loss, 6.5 of them came via a sack.
5. What’s at stake
A win over Alabama, the No. 1 team in the AP Poll, would be among the biggest victories in program history for Mississippi State. A loss, conversely, shouldn’t hurt the Bulldogs (No. 18, according to the AP) all that badly. If anything, a loss for Mississippi State could allow LSU to leapfrog Dan Mullen’s team for third in the SEC West standings.