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Alabama Football vs Mississippi State: When the Bulldogs have the Ball

RIP Mike Leach

NCAA Football: Mississippi State at South Carolina Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Mississippi State’s offense has undergone some drastic transformations in the time that I’ve been doing weekly opponent previews at Roll Bama Roll. From the old QB rushing-centric offense with Dan Mullen calling the shots with Dak Prescott to the Air Raid with Mike Leach, it’s definitely gone through some very distinct and even iconic iterations.

After averaging 50 passing attempts per game over the last three years, the Bulldogs have dropped to a much more balanced 30 passes and 30 rushes per game this year under first year head coach Zach Arnett. As a career defensive coach, Arnett quickly went out and hired a bright up-and-comer at OC, Kevin Barbay. Barbay spent a couple of seasons with Jim McElwain at Central Michigan and last year at Appalachian State, and has consistently produced very efficient offenses.

With senior QB Will Rogers returning for his 4th year as a starter, many of the old Air Raid concepts still remain in the playbook. A lot of the passing offense is still based around screen passes, quick hitches, and sideline backshoulder routes - All things that Rodgers has spent a career working on.

However, they actually use a tight end and more normal width receiver splits these days, and the running backs and even wide receivers get a significant amount of work in the ground game.

Rodgers is completing 60% of his passes for 8.0 yards per attempt and 6 TDs to only one interception on the year. He’s been effective and efficient, outside of some real head-scratching accuracy problems against LSU. As always, he’s got a quick release and is tough to intercept but is never going to be too much of a threat to throw the deep ball and tends to be pretty easy to sack.

His main target this year has been slot man Lideatrick Griffin. On 3rd downs, you can almost guarantee that Griffin is going to be running a drag route right at the first down line and trying to use traffic to get himself open for the easy chain conversion. He has 20 catches for 388 yards and three TDs so far.

The main engine of this offense, though, is running back Woody Marks. Averaging 5.6 yards per carry on 63 attempts, plus another 14 catches for 105 yards in the passing game, Marks is one of the best running backs in the SEC. The senior has been a constant contributor and starter for the Bulldogs for four seasons now, but with the offense change, he’s now really getting his chance to shine. At 5’10” 210, he’s not the fastest guy around, but he’s got insanely quick feet and plays like a bar of soap. Defenders will almost always miss the first tackle one on one with him, and he’s always going to be getting positive yardage.

Overall, the Bulldog rushing offense was downright dominant against Arizona and Southeast Louisiana, but has had some struggles against LSU and South Carolina in SEC play. Will Rogers threw for 400+ yards against South Carolina in a bit of a shootout, but was mostly shut down by an overwhelming pass rush from LSU. So through four games, the offense has been a bit of shapeshifter with what units are playing well and which ones are not. There’s definitely exploitable weaknesses in both pass protection and run blocking along the offensive line, but the RB and QB both have the capability to keep the offense moving all the time.

For Alabama, I think this offense pretty well plays right into the Tide’s defensive strengths. Alabama’s been extremely aggressive at swarming to outside runs and short passing concepts under Kevin Steele this season, and unfortunately for the Bulldogs, those things make up the bulk of their offense.

Marks will get his yards and make some frustrating plays, sure, but I think Rogers will mostly have a long day, and the Alabama pass rush should be able to make a good bit of noise in this one.

LSU held the Bulldogs to 14 points, and I think Alabama will likely be similar. We’ll err on the side of them getting some short field position from the Tide’s offense and predict 17 points for the Dogs.