Whoo hoo! Alabama was a bit better by every measure than Ole Miss last week, and what we had projected as a borderline DD win, manifested as a 17-point game, with a reborn Tide identity in the second half.
The question now for Alabama is: Can this team carry that momentum over 82 miles across the state line into Starkville, a place that Alabama has traditionally played poorly in, but an opponent that Nick Saban has almost universally dominated?
Let’s go look at the numbers.
Alabama -14.5 at Mississippi State
How close are these teams, really? I think a good barometer is to begin with what appears to be a respectable rushing attack for the bullies. It’s in the middle of the pack, efficiency-wise. But what those averages don’t tell you is that the MSU ground game has gotten demonstrably worse each week, and it’s yet to crack 100 yards in two combined games against teams with winning records. In fact, about 40% of their total output came against an FCS opponent, in Week One. Their opponent will be the Crimson Tide front seven, that is 7th in the nation in ground-efficiency defense, and second on a per-play basis.
On the other side of the ball, however, the Tide are 6th in rushing efficiency offense, and 26th in per-play success rate on the ground. When you compare that with an MSU defensive front that has been gashed lately, and particularly by two mobile QBs, you get a tremendous mismatch for the Tide.
Likewise, Alabama’s pass defense — the best in the nation — faces a State offense in transition, and which is nowhere near as efficient as it was with the Dread Pirate (RIP, Coach). In fact, they’re just 66th — a far cry from the Top 10 output we’ve grown accustomed to.
Be especially alert to an MSU offensive line that is allowing 7 pressures and 3 hits per game, to go with their three sacks allowed per game, and 8.0 TFL allowed. And while the OL has not been great this year in Pass Pro, the Tide is in the Top 20 in generating sacks. When you’re pitting two bad lines against one another, the team that can make something happen on defense is the better bet. That is Alabama
For Alabama, while Jalen Milroe isn’t anything special, he’s been remarkably efficient against bad secondaries. He lit up MTSU and Ole Miss, with highly effective, high-percentage throws, and then some deep lobs. This is where State can be especially vulnerable. Arizona and LSU went over the top of the Bulldogs DBs repeatedly. In fact, against their three Power 5 opponents to-date, the MSU secondary has allowed almost 6 explosive pass plays of 20+ yards per contest. Alabama has allowed 11 throws of 20+ yards...all season.
This seems to again weigh heavily in ‘Bama’s favor.
What about things like penalties? Pretty much a draw. These two teams don’t draw many flags, generally playing well-disciplined ball. Turnovers would seem to favor the Bulldogs. MSU doesn’t turn it over very much. But those defensive numbers in forcing them? A lot of smoke and mirrors; 4 of their 7 forced TOs were against an FCS opponent. In half of their games, they have forced zero. The Tide, meanwhile, have forced a TO in nearly every game, and have won the TO battle in 3 of their 4 contests. The one game they did not force a TO or win the +/-? Yup. It was Texas.
And, we can safely say that this team is not Texas.
Overall, like Ole Miss last week, the Tide is simply the better team here. And they’re a lot better in a lot of things than the Bulldogs are. If the offensive line would like to get on track before a trip to College Station, this is their last chance. If the offense would like to carry over its newly-forged identity before it gets to the heart of the schedule, this is the game to show it.
The numbers suggest Alabama wins another uninspiring, but profitable game in Starkvegas.
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Alabama covering 14.5 on the road?