October 27, 2012 5:55:32 PM
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - It's finally here. The matchup Mississippi State have been waiting for since well....the schedules came out last year while the Bulldogs were preparing for the Music City Bowl in Nashville. The Dispatch MSU Sports Blog has been waiting, waiting and waiting all day to say we're LOOKING LIVE.....at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala., for a prime matchup as the No. 13 Bulldogs travel to face No. 1 University of Alabama.
Here's what we're going to do for our pre-game blog: The Dispatch MSU Sports Blog is going to review all the material we've assembled for you this week in our print edition.
NOTE: Be sure to bookmark this page as we'll continue to update this post throughout the day until kickoff as news continues to flow out about pre-game news for either team tonight. However, I'm told this afternoon by MSU officials that significant roster moves are not expected.
MONDAY - MSU football feature - We looked how the recruiting philosophies at MSU and Alabama have differed greatly
MSU football feature - We looked at how the offensive running games at MSU and Alabama are incredibly similar as compared to the rest of the SEC.
TUESDAY - MSU football feature - On MSU sophomore receiver Robert Johnson and his building confidence following his first career TD http://cdispatch.com/sports/article.asp?aid=19787
MSU football feature - On how Mississippi junior college porgrams have helped both MSU and Alabama leading up to this matchup
WEDNESDAY -MSU football feature - We look at the similar excellent play of the Qbs between Mississippi State's Tyler Russell and Alabama's AJ McCarron.
MSU football notebook - MSU senior cornerback Johnthan Banks is ready for matchup with freshman WR Amari Cooper
THURSDAY - MSU football feature - We look into answering the question: Well, what if MSU wins Saturday at Alabama?
5 KEYS TO THE GAME
1. Can Mississippi State University establish any running game against
the University of Alabama?
MSU junior tailback LaDarius Perkins currently leads the Southeastern Conference and is 24th in the nation in rushing at 103.43 yards per game and is one of just two running backs in the Football Bowl
Subdivision (along with San Diego State University's Adam Muema) with a rushing touchdown in every game this season. Alabama (7-0, 4-0 in SEC) leads the nation in surrendering only 10 individual 100-yard rushing games dating back to the 2005 season. Since Tide head coach Nick Saban arrived as the next Crimson Tide head coach, Alabama has allowed just five tailbacks to eclipse the 100-yard mark.
"Their running game is probably the best in the SEC so we're going to come in and try to make them one-dimensional the best we can," Alabama linebacker Nico Johnson said.
2. Which quarterback makes the first and then the most mistakes Saturday?
Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron is having one of the most efficient seven-game start to a season. McCarron leads the nation in passing efficiency (183.63) while completing 68.8 percent of his passes for 1,476 yards, 16 touchdowns and no interceptions.
MSU junior quarterback Tyler Russell is 122-of-203 (60.1 percent) for 1,573 yards, 15 touchdowns and one interception. The Meridian native is currently on pace to shatter mostly every single career and
single-season passing record in school history.
So the obvious question is which signal caller will blink and make a mistake?
"You don't always force people into mistakes - they make mistakes and (McCarron) does a good job of not doing it," MSU coach Dan Mullen said.
3. Can Alabama find a way to get open receivers against MSU's secondary?
Alabama's top receiver target Amari Cooper, a 6-foot-1 athlete from Miami, is giving Alabama fans visions of a former freshman phenom receiver named Julio Jones. Cooper leads the Crimson Tide in receptions (28), yards (425) and touchdowns (5). The problem is the newcomer will likely see an All-American at MSU in senior Johnthan Banks across from him and senior Darius Slay on the other side.
"We need John Banks to set that performance standard now and pull everybody up to his level," Mullen said. "He's done that most of the year and we think it'll continue this week."
4. Does Alabama get caught looking ahead to a road test at Louisiana State?
The answer is probably not. The rule of thumb is teams coached by Nick Saban are too disciplined to get caught looking past the game on the current week but a matchup in Baton Rouge, La., looms next week where LSU is on a bye week waiting for the Crimson Tide. The last loss for Alabama was a 9-6
overtime defeat at Bryant-Denny Stadium before beating LSU in the national championship rematch 21-0. In a Homecoming game against MSU, will the Tide be caught looking past a nationally overlooked Bulldogs (7-0, 3-0 in SEC) team?
5. Is MSU ready to take next step and win a game against a top tier SEC school?
Here are the facts: MSU is a 24-point underdog.
The Bulldogs haven't beaten Alabama since 2007, which was Nick Saban's
first season with the Crimson Tide. Mullen has beaten one ranked teams in his last 10 tries while in
Starkville and that was a 10-7 victory over a Florida team that was overrated and underperformed throughout the year. The obvious question is are the Bulldogs ready to pull the upset and generate that buzz as a conference and national elite program?
"They always play tough against us," Saban said. "They don't play OK against us; they play well. We struggled as much against them last year as anyone else that we played against.This is, no doubt, the best team we've played to this point in the season."
Players to Watch
Junior QB Tyler Russell
Russell, who was considered one of the better quarterbacks in the country four years ago coming out of Meridian High School, has given the Bulldogs an added element that's been missing for decades - a
downfield passing game. Russell was the first MSU signee at quarterback since John Bond in 1978 to be a national All-American out of high school and he signed with the Bulldogs over Alabama, the
University of Mississippi and University of South Carolina. Can h beat the Tide on the road Saturday?
Junior DE Denico Autry
The fact of the matter is to slow down Alabama's vertical passing game in any way, MSU has to get more pressure than they have been able to generate through the first seven games. The Bulldogs are ranked near the bottom in sacks and pressures in SEC through seven games and games like this is exactly why the defensive end from East Mississippi Community College was brought to the Starkville campus to play in.
Junior QB AJ McCarron
The junior from Mobile has emerged as a candidate for the Heisman Trophy this season, with a career-high 303-yard passing performance against the University of Tennessee last week to only scare defensive coordinators even more. McCarron is no longer a game manager but can
break the game wide open now down the field.
"Statistically he's the best one we've played so far," Mullen said. "There's a bunch I haven't seen this year but he's the best we've seen so far."
Junior CB Dee Milner
At over 6-foot in height, with long arms and a thick, muscular build, Milliner has the size and strength that National Football League teams are desperately seeking. He added four tackles with an interception, four pass deflections and a half-sack against Ole Miss this season.
"Coach Saban is a secondary coach and probably one of the better ones in the country," MSU wide receivers coach Tim Brewster said. "Dee is absolutely outstanding and comparable to Banks and Slay on our side."
Oct. 3, 1942
The last time Alabama and MSU have both met with undefeated 7-0 records when the No. 1 Crimson Tide host the No. 13 Bulldogs Saturday night (7:30 p.m., ESPN).
All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.
4. A Stone's Throw: Beware COLUMNS