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Pre-game at Davis Wade Stadium (UPDATED): No. 1 Crimson Tide roll into Starkville



Matt Stevens


STARKVILLE - Welcome to Week 11 of the 2013 college football season. The Dispatch MSU Sports Blog will be LOOKING LIVE.....at Kyle Field as the Bulldogs (4-5, 1-4 in SEC) host No. 1, two-time defending national champion Alabama (9-0, 6-0), 6:45 p.m., ESPN. 




NOTE: As always go ahead and refresh this blog post up to kickoff for the latest information on the game. 




Here's what we've always done to do for our pre-game blog: I'm going to give you the five major questions that will be answered on the field this evening two key players for both teams and some numbers to keep in mind. 




UPDATED (4:45 p.m.) - Mississippi State officials have announced senior quarterback Tyler Russell will making his fourth start of the 2013 season. The status of Dak Prescott's availability after suffering a pinched never in his left arm last week at Texas A&M. Russell has thrown for 468 yards and three touchdowns this season but has missed four games due to various injuries in his final year of eligibility. 






- Can Mississippi State handle the physicality that Alabama will bring to Davis Wade Stadium? 




Last week MSU (4-5, 1-4 in Southeastern Conference) was preparing for a track meet against Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel and his high-powered offensive attack. This week the MSU fifth-year head coach and the Bulldogs staff are getting ready for a heavyweight fight. 


Against Bowl Championship Series schools, No. 1 Alabama (9-0, 6-0 in SEC) is second in the league in rushing at 233.14 yards per game. The Crimson Tide's running game is led by sophomores T.J. Yeldon (862 yards, 12 touchdowns) and Kenyan Drake (556 yards, 7 touchdowns) as Alabama averages over six yards a carry on first and second down. The tradition of Nick Saban's teams at Alabama in front of a powerful offensive line has been to run the football with a power game early and often. The Crimson Tide have been ranked 16th, 16th, 30th and 12th in the country in rushing. 


In the last four games against Alabama, MSU has allowed the Tide to run for an average of 207.25 yards per game. Last season MSU was one of three teams to hold Alabama to under 200 yards on the ground. However, in that 38-7 road loss in Tuscaloosa, Alabama went up 24-0 before halftime and Yeldon came out of the game early after 84 yards on 10 carries. 




- How much will Mississippi State sophomore quarterback Dak Prescott play Saturday? 




MSU sophomore quarterback Dak Prescott has been ruled "questionable" to play by Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen after suffering a pinched nerve in his left arm and the fifth-year head coach said he wouldn't be reevaluated for practice until Wednesday. It is still unclear what Prescott's role will be Saturday vs. No. 1 Alabama (6:45 p.m., ESPN2). 


With less than two minutes remaining in the game, Prescott took a solid shot from Texas A&M defensive back Tony Hurd Jr., and was forced to take himself out of the contest while holding his left arm. The drive ended with a touchdown pitch-and-catch from Tyler Russell to De'Runnya Wilson. Prescott would be holding his non-throwing arm as he left the stadium with the team following the loss. 




- Can MSU handle the initial wave of Alabama's attack in the first half 




Alabama has been down in just two of nine games this season. Of the 326 rushing attempts the Crimson Tide have tried in the 2013 season, Alabama has only run five rushing plays when behind on the scoreboard this season. The Crimson Tide have outscored its opponents 300-54 in the first three quarters of games this season (33.3-6.0), leaving little work to be done after the third quarter. Alabama has thrown just 37 fourth-quarter passes the entire season (4.1 pg), while rushing for 582 yards on 110 carries in the fourth. UA's second unit has been on the field for 16 drives this season, including the entire second half against Georgia State and part of the third and all of the fourth quarter against Arkansas. The Tide has outscored its opponents 68-28 in the fourth quarter, but 21 of those points we scored by Texas A&M. Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron has completed 141-of-201 passes (70.1 percent) in the first three quarters for 1,785 yards and 17 touchdowns. While he has spent a good portion of the fourth quarter on the bench, connecting on 18-of-28 passes for 256 yards and two scores. 




- Can AJ McCarron back up his coach's campaign for him to win the 2013 Heisman Trophy? 




Alabama senior signal caller AJ McCarron is not only the SEC's leader in career winning percentage (.944; 34-2 record), but is also amazingly accurate during his career and more specifically his last eight games. The senior from Mobile has connected on 67.4 percent of his pass attempts during his career and 69.4 percent of his passes in 2013 (159 of 229), which ranks eighth nationally and second in the SEC. McCarron's numbers over the last eight games are some of the best of his career, completing 72.3 percent of his passes (149 of 206) for 1,931 yards and 18 touchdowns against only two interceptions for a quarterback efficiency rating of 177.96. 




- Will Alabama finally be challenged and upset on the road? 




As successful as Alabama has been at Bryant-Denny Stadium in the Saban era, the Crimson Tide has been nearly as effective away from home. Alabama has a 17-game winning streak away from Bryant-Denny Stadium, which is the longest active streak in the FBS. The 17-game streak includes both true road games and neutral-site games and dates back to a 24-21 loss at LSU on Nov. 6, 2010. The streak also includes victories at Texas A&M, over Virginia Tech (Atlanta), Notre Dame (Miami Gardens), LSU (Baton Rouge and New Orleans), Michigan (Dallas), at Penn State, at Florida, at Arkansas, at Kentucky and at Auburn. The current streak is the second-longest of its kind in Alabama history behind a 19-game streak that began on Sept. 24, 1977, and ended on Nov. 1, 1980. 




Players to Watch 








Senior OG Gabe Jackson 




The most NFL scouts at Davis Wade Stadium this season will be at this Alabama-MSU game and they'll be looking to see how the Bulldogs offensive guard will fare against the massive defensive front of the Crimson Tide. Some mock drafts have Jackson projected to be the third first round pick at MSU in the last four years and his tape from this matchup will go a long way to that belief one way or another. 




Junior DE Preston Smith 




The junior defensive end had three tackles for a loss and two sacks in the 59-26 loss to LSU in Starkville. Smith had a half sack last week at Texas A&M and leads the team with 2.5 sacks in the 2013 season. It will be more than critical for Smith and the MSU defensive line to get consistent pressure to Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron. 








Sophomore tailback T.J. Yeldon 




Yeldon broke free for the longest run of his Alabama career in a 25-0 victory over Ole Miss, going 68 yards for the touchdown. He now has 862 yards and 12 touchdowns in the season's first nine games. Yeldon ranks fourth in the SEC and 33rd nationally with 95.8 yards per game. He has cracked the 100-yard barrier on four occasions with 149 yards on 25 carries at Texas A&M, 121 yards on 17 totes versus Ole Miss, 124 yards on 16 carries at Kentucky and 133 yards on 25 carries against LSU. 






Senior linebacker C.J. Moseley 




Senior linebacker C.J. Mosley has been named a semifinalist for the Lombardi, Bednarik and Butkus Awards. The Butkus Award goes to the nation's best linebacker while the Lombardi Award honors the top interior lineman or linebacker and the Bednarik the top defensive player. Mosley leads the Tide with 71 tackles and 7.0 tackles for loss (15 yards) while breaking up five passes and recording four quarterback hurries. 




Numbers of the game 




10-1: The career record of Alabama coach Nick Saban against Mississippi State. The Tide fell 17-12 in Starkville in 2007. Saban was 5-0 against Mississippi State while serving as head coach at LSU from 2000-04. 




97: The amount of games in the series between Alabama and Mississippi State, which is the most of any opponent against the Crimson Tide in either school's history. 




1.03: The amount of average turnovers given up per game by Alabama's offense over the last 77 games. The number is better than Ohio State's second-best mark of 1.21 (88 turnovers, 73 games). 






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.



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