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RUNNING OVER THE OPPOSITION: MSU, Alabama possess physical ground games

 

Matthew Stevens

 

STARKVILLE -- It's clear both teams that meet this Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium won't be surprised this week in practice by what the scout team offense is running. 

 

The defenses of Mississippi State University and the University of Alabama have seen the fundamental principles every single day in practice in the preseason. 

 

Run the football, stop the run, don't turn it over. This is the formula that allowed both programs in this matchup to achieve 7-0 records in their meeting for the first time since Oct. 3, 1942 

 

"They pound away at people," MSU coach Dan Mullen said. "They pound away and pound away and wait for you to make a mistake, and then pounce as the game goes on." 

 

Through the four years since Mullen arrived in Starkville, MSU and Alabama have both been ranked in the Top 5 of the Southeastern Conference in rushing offense and the matchup between the two has usually been defined by which team physical controls the line of scrimmage. 

 

Alabama's starting offensive line averages 314.2 pounds per man it's that physical presence that has allowed them to rush for over 200 yards in five of their first seven games this season. 

 

In the last three matchups with Alabama, MSU has been out-gained on the ground 650-275 including last year's domination of 223-12 by the eventual national champions. 

 

"By running the football as well as they do, you can see how it sets up their play-action vertical passing over the course of a game so well," MSU defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said. 

 

Alabama (7-0, 4-0 in SEC) is ahead of the entire Football Bowl Subdivision in three major categories (total defense, scoring defense and run defense) and will be focusing on the SEC's leading rusher in MSU junior LaDarius Perkins being the third straight starting tailback to earn less than 90 yards in a game against the Crimson Tide. 

 

Perkins currently leads the 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. 

 

"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. 

 

In an interesting twist, Perkins laid out his goals for the Alabama game and had none of them include rushing totals but had more to do with blocking fundamentals for Bulldogs junior quarterback Tyler Russell. 

 

"We know the hard work we've put in during the offseason and summer camps have been to give us a chance to win games like this," Perkins said. "A major part of what we have to do as running backs Saturday is protect the ball and protect our quarterback." 

 

Making sure MSU gives Russell a chance to find throwing lanes is critical when even the MSU coaching staff acknowledges the difficult task of running against Alabama's 3-4 defense led by coordinator Kirby Smart. Alabama leads the nation in surrendering only 10 individual 100-yard rushing games dating back to the 2005 season. Since Saban arrived as the next Crimson Tide head coach, Alabama has allowed just five tailbacks to eclipse the 100-yard mark. 

 

"There's no backward steps at Alabama," MSU wide receivers coach Tim Brewster said. "It's certainly going to be a big challenge for our core receivers on Saturday night to get open because it's going to be tough sledding running the football against the front seven Alabama's got." 

 

Despite running a version of the spread-option attack, MSU's style under Mullen has been more of a primarily grind it out type attack. 

 

Over the last four seasons, MSU have gotten at least 59 percent of their total offense via the run game. During this stretch, MSU has had the SEC's leader in rushing twice with Perkins and current National Football League running back Anthony Dixon. 

 

Saturday night gives Mullen's squad the opportunity against the No. 1 Crimson Tide (7:30 p.m., ESPN) to prove they are no longer a Alabama-light offense but can beat the defending champs at what they do best on both sides of the ball as well. 

 

"We like to consider ourselves somewhat of a physical program as well," Mullen said Monday. "Our guys like those type of games.You're going to line it up and punch each other in the face."

 

 

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