For the first time since Oct. 3, 1942, Mississippi State and Alabama will both be undefeated when they play each other. In fact, Alabama (11) and Mississippi State (9) have two of the three-longest winning streaks in the FBS. One of the reasons why each team in undefeated is the play they are getting from the quarterback position. Tyler Russell for Mississippi State and A.J. McCarron for Alabama are two of three FBS quarterbacks with at least 15 touchdown passes and less than two interceptions.
You have likely heard of McCarron before who is on some Heisman short lists, but you probably have not have heard of the junior from Meridian, Mississippi unless you are among the cowbell clanging faithful at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville.
Russell came to Mississippi State as a heralded four-star recruit but sat on the bench for the most part behind Chris Relf, only seeing situational duty and spot starts the last two years before ascending to the starting role this season.
This is undoubtedly the biggest game of the short career of Russell who must go into hostile territory at Bryant-Denny Stadium to take on the unanimous #1 team in the country and defending champions.
As if that wasn’t a daunting enough task for Russell and the Bulldogs offense he operates, he must try and find a way to move the ball and get into the end zone against the #1 defense in the nation that has given up a paltry seven touchdowns in seven games.
The Bulldogs have found points to be at a premium in the previous four matchups against Nick Saban’s team averaging less than a touchdown per game in four consecutive losses.
The big question heading into Saturday night’s contest is if this Mississippi State team has feasted on a soft early season schedule or if they have taken the next step under Dan Mullen and are poised to compete against heavyweights in the conference like Alabama and LSU.
If the betting line is any indication of that perception surrounding the Bulldogs, where the Crimson Tide is a 24-point favorite, it’s that the Bulldogs don’t stand a chance on Saturday.
Last time Mississippi State was this much of an underdog was Sept. 27, 2008 at LSU. The #5 Tigers defeated MSU 34-24, so they kept the game close and proved many of the skeptics wrong in the hollow moral victory.
S0 how can MSU pull off the upset?
Mississippi State leads the nation with a +17 turnover differential, and while Alabama ranks second at +14, the Bulldogs must force at least three turnovers and score at least 12 points off those turnovers.
Get pressure on McCarron and force him to throw the ball away and to his dump off receivers underneath. MSU has the best set of cornerbacks in the nation with Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay leading the conference in interceptions, so they can play man defense on the perimeter and can be afforded the luxury of bringing pressure from all over the field.
Stars need to perform like stars to take down the giant. Banks tied the record for interceptions in the school’s history and picking of McCarron and taking one back to the house could quiet the home crowd and rattle the quarterback that has played flawlessly this season.
Chad Bumphis leads the conference in touchdown receptions with six scores and LaDarius Perkins leads the conference with 724 rushing yards, and has scored in every game this season. These two need to produce when counted on the most to make an impact.
Special teams often go unnoticed unless something goes wrong. Get some long returns and set up short fields, make all the field goal opportunities, down punts inside the 20, and cover kicks like your heads on fire.
If MSU can follow this recipe for an upset then they can take down Goliath, after all they have a better chance than David did in slaying the giant with his slingshot.
Most importantly, it would present a shift in the national perception of Mississippi State and they will sit high atop the SEC west with a program-altering win.
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