Mississippi State vs. Alabama Prediction, Betting Pick, and Latest Odds
Spread: Alabama -17.5
Game Time: Saturday, 7:00 p.m. ET
Where to Watch: ESPN
Mississippi State Bulldogs vs. Alabama Crimson Tide - Out of the Tunnel
The last time Alabama prepared for a moment like this was November of 2019, a span of 19 straight wins where offense ruled the college football world.
But the Alabama offense can no longer save the Alabama defense. As crazy and unimaginable as it seems, Nick Saban’s beloved defense has become an anchor around the waist of a team defending its national title.
The game-turning big plays of the past? Gone.
The nasty front seven against the run, forcing offenses into uncomfortable down and distance situations? Gone.
The sticky coverage from a secondary, easily moving between man, zone, and combo coverages? Gone.
The overwhelming Alabama offense covered these issues over the last 19 games -- until they no longer could. The Tide should have lost at Florida in Week 3 and finally lost at Texas A&M last week.
Now here comes Mississippi State, with coach Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense that continues to develop in Year 2. He has a hot quarterback (Will Rogers) and a quickly emerging offensive line.
It typically takes two or three seasons for Leach’s system to fully implement (as it did at Texas Tech and Washington State), but it’s a handful for defenses when it does. The one thing Leach has at Mississippi State that he didn’t at Texas Tech and Washington State: a defense that can get stops.
The Bulldogs are fourth in the SEC in total defense (318.4 ypg.) and second in opponent third-down conversions (29.5 percent). But this Alabama offense will be their toughest test yet.
When Alabama Has The Ball
Maybe Saban’s teams are getting too fascinated with the passing game. Or maybe we’re overthinking it because the defense has played so poorly in big games.
Understand this: The best way to protect a defense is game control, and the best way to control the clock is a strong run game. Unfortunately, too many times this season, Alabama has gotten away from talented running back Brian Robinson (526 yards, 6 Touchdowns), whose unique skillset is a problem for defenses.
He’s a power runner who can move the pile, has the shakes to make defenders miss, and has enough speed to run away once he hits the second level. He’s also solid in the passing game.
It’s hard to criticize an offense averaging 44.3 points per game, and QB Bryce Young, who has a 20-to-3 TD/INT ratio and is playing better than any quarterback in college football.
Alabama must do something to protect its defense, which means running the ball and sustaining drives – instead of the typical pass-based onslaught. But even that comes with a caveat: the Bulldogs have the No.2 rush defense in the SEC (89.4 ypg.).
When Mississippi State Has The Ball
The most misunderstood facet of Leach’s wildly successful offense over the years: he must have a gazillion plays.
Actually, it might be less than 10.
What Leach does as well or better than any offensive coach is formations and repetition. He uses motion and formations for critical pre-snap evaluations, trying to confuse defenses and forcing them to tip their coverage as man or zone.
Leach believes – and stresses over and over to his team – that even if defenses know what you’re doing, it can’t be stopped if the play is blocked correctly, the route is run correctly, and the throw is on time and accurate.
That triangle of need each play, however, doesn’t always come off without a hitch. In fact, if one of the three doesn’t happen, it decreases the chances of success.
Rogers has been brilliant this season, throwing on time and with anticipation and not making game-turning mistakes. He’s completing 76 percent of his passes and has a TD/INT ratio of 14/2.
The only issue for the offense: it still doesn’t have a legit run game, and more importantly, the ball doesn’t go downfield as often as it did at Texas Tech and Washington State. Rogers is averaging only 6.6 yards per attempt, and that could play into the Alabama defense.
The Tide have had problems with power-run teams (which MSU is not) and those same teams (Florida, Texas A&M) throwing off play-action. If Mississippi State can’t run the ball at least minimally to slow the Alabama rush, the Tide could get better quickly on defense.
For one game, anyway.
Mississippi State vs. Alabama Prediction - The Bottom Line
Look for Alabama Defensive End/Outside Linebacker Will Anderson to have a huge game. At times, he’s unblockable and will disrupt the MSU passing game enough to help the secondary cover less.
If Defensive End/Outside Linebacker Drew Sanders (thumb) can return this week, it will cause more pass protection issues for the Bulldogs. However, that should be enough for the Alabama offense to pull away in the second half after the defense figures out the Air Raid and gets a few critical stops.
The score: Alabama, 37-23
Mississippi State vs. Alabama Pick: Over 57.5 (-110)