One good thing about the biggest game in Mississippi State football history being played in Tuscaloosa is that almost twice as many fans can slide into Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium (101,821) as can make it into the Bulldogs’ Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field (55,082). The bad news for State is that about 95,000 thousand Saturday will be cheering for the Crimson Tide.
Alabama and Mississippi State are both 7-0 overall and undefeated in the Southeastern Conference, Bama at 4-0, the Bulldogs at 3-0. The Tide is ranked first in the nation in all polls. Mississippi State is 12th in the Coaches Poll and 13th in the Associated Press rankings.
The teams will meet at 7:30 p.m. CDT Saturday with television coverage by ESPN.
Since the start of the 2008 season, Alabama has a 19-6 record against teams ranked in the AP top 25. Also since 2008, four-and-a-half seasons, Bama has 55 wins, second by one to Boise State over that period.
With a few games adjusted in Mississippi State’s favor by illogical NCAA edict, Alabama still has an incredible 74-18-3 advantage in the series. This will be the 97th game in the series (the Tide’s on-the-field advantage is 76-17-3) and there is no team Alabama has played more.
The Tide of Coach Nick Saban comes into the game in familiar territory insofar as the statistics battle. Bama leads the nation in almost all the major defensive categories – rushing defense, pass defense efficiency, total defense, and scoring defense. The Tide is second in the nation in passing defense. Bama is also first in forcing a team to go three downs and out. Opponents have faced third down situations 85 times against Alabama and have been stopped 48 times, 49.4 per cent. The Tide is averaging 6.0 three-and-outs per game.
Neither Alabama nor Mississippi State has played a very tough schedule based on opponents’ records. The Bulldogs have played three Sun Belt teams plus Jackson State as non-conference opponents and have not played an SEC team with a conference victory (Auburn 0-5, Kentucky 0-5, Tennessee 0-4). The Dogs are coming off a home victory against Middle Tennessee, Bama a road win over Tennessee.
Alabama is second in the SEC and 14th in the nation in scoring at 41 points per game with Mississippi State not far behind at 36.7 points per game, fourth in the conference and 27th nationally. The Tide’s best-in-the-nation scoring defense is 8.3 points per game, while the Bulldogs allow 14.4 points per game, third in the league and ninth in the nation.
Bama is second in the league and 20th in the nation in rushing offense at 219.4 yards per game, while the Bulldogs surrender 181 yards per game on the ground. Defensively, Alabama allows just 58.7 yards per game. State is giving up 139.1 yards per game. Incredibly, State is seventh in the league and 47th in the nation in both rushing and rushing defense.
The Bulldogs have an advantage over Alabama in passing offense. State is fourth in the SEC and 26th nationally at 235.9 yards per game. Bama is seventh in the league and 75th in the nation at 220.1 yards per game. In passing efficiency, however, the Tide is first in the SEC and Mississippi State is third. In pass defense, Alabama allows just 136.9 yards per game and the Dogs are sixth in the conference and 21st in the nation by allowing 188.6. State is fourth in the conference in pass defense efficiency.
Alabama is fifth in the SEC and 39th nationally in total offense at 439.6 yards per game. Mississippi State has average total offense of 418.9 yards per game, seventh in the conference and 50th in the nation. The Crimson Tide allows only 195.6 yards per game, while the Bulldogs rank fifth in the league and 25th in the nation, allowing 327.7 yards per game.
Three important statistics are turnover margin, Red Zone performance, and third down efficiency.
The good news for Mississippi State is that the Bulldogs are best in the nation in turnover margin at plus 17. The Dogs have 9 fumble recoveries and 12 interceptions for plus 21 and have given up only three fumble recoveries and one interception for minus 4. The bad news for Mississippi State is that Alabama is not far behind at plus 14, second in the SEC and third in the nation. The Tide has 7 fumble recoveries and 13 interceptions for plus 20 and has lost six fumbles.
In Red Zone performance, Alabama leads the league both offensively and defensively. The Tide has scored on 30 of 31 trips (23 touchdowns, 7 field goals, 1 turnover) when inside the opponent 20-yard line. Bama has allowed opponents to score on only 7 of 12 trips (5 touchdowns, 2 field goals) inside the Red Zone. State is sixth in offensive efficiency, 26 scores in 30 trips (10 touchdowns, 6 field goals) and fifth on defense, allowing 12 scores in 17 trips (8 TDs, 4 FGs).
On third downs, Alabama is third in the league in converting (39-84) at 46.4 per cent. State is fifth at 43.2 per cent (41-95). Defensively, Bama is first in the league, permitting just 25 per cent success (24-96). Mississippi State is eighth in the league in third down conversions, 41-95 for 43.2 per cent. Defensively, the Dogs hjave allowed 33-96 for 34.4 per cent, eighth in the SEC.
Both teams play disciplined football with few penalties. Bama has been penalized 31 times for an average of 36.1 yards per game, third in the SEC, and State is fourth in the league with 30 penalties for an average of 36.9 yards per game.
Among individuals, State’s LaDarius Perkins leads the SEC at 103.4 yards per game. (Alabama has allowed only 10 opposing players to rush for 100 or more yards since 2005, which is best in the nation. Under Nick Saban the Tide has allowed only five players to rush for 100 yards or more.)
Bama quarterback A.J. McCarron continues to lead the nation in passing efficiency with a rating that would rank third in history. He has 16 touchdown passes this year (equaling his total for all of last season) and has not thrown an interception while completing 106-154 (68.9 per cent) for 210.9 yards per game.
Tide cornerback Dee Milliner continues to lead the league in passes defended with 13 pass break-ups and two interceptions. State’s Johnthan Banks is tied for the SEC lead in interceptions with four.