November 13, 2014 9:57:08 AM
Taveze Calhoun and Will Redmond, CB
The cornerback assigned to contain Alabama junior wide receiver Amari Cooper will be MSU's most important defender. Calhoun entered the season as MSU's top defensive back, but Redmond, a junior from Memphis, Tennessee, has emerged as the Bulldogs' best player in man coverage. Redmond, who sealed a 17-10 victory against Arkansas with a fourth-quarter interception, is tied for the team lead with three interceptions.
Calhoun and Redmond are the primary candidates to defend Cooper, Alabama's most explosive playmaker. Through nine games this season, Cooper has 79 catches for 1,215 yards and 10 touchdowns. He leads the Southeastern Conference in all three categories.
"He's a dynamic playmaker," MSU defensive coordinator Geoff Collins said of Cooper. "They do a very good job of getting him the ball in a number of different ways. There will be times where we have one-on-one situations. How we deal with those situations will be big."
STAT TO WATCH
For MSU, the statistic to watch will be the same on both sides of the ball. Earlier this season, the defense was at its best when forcing turnovers, as MSU recorded three takeaways against LSU and Texas A&M and four against Auburn. But MSU's defense has forced only two turnovers in the past three weeks. To beat Alabama, MSU's defense must create havoc.
"It's something we talk about every day," Collins said. "We emphasize going and getting the football. Our guys know how important that is. Last week, we left four turnovers on the field. We dropped three interceptions that were in our hands, and we didn't recover a fumble we caused. We have to get the football."
WHAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT
MSU's passing defense has struggled all season. At times, that has been due to opposing offenses moving the ball freely against the backup defense late in games. At other times, the Bulldogs have given up yardage in chunks. MSU enters the game against Alabama ranked last in the SEC in passing yards allowed.
That won't work against quarterback Blake Sims and Cooper. Sims, who has passed for 2,243 yards and 17 touchdowns, has thrown three interceptions this season. The Crimson Tide also are averaging nearly 46 points per game at home.
Ryan Brown, defensive end
Senior defensive end Preston Smith leads MSU with seven sacks, but Brown, a 6-foot-5 sophomore from New Orleans, is MSU's second-leading sack artist with 3.5. In a game where MSU must pressure Sims early and often, Brown could be the key.
Mississippi State defensive line vs. Alabama offensive line
Against then-No. 8 LSU on Sept. 20, MSU's defensive line was dominant, allowing less than 2 yards per carry and getting four sacks. On the season, MSU leads the SEC in sacks with 29 and ranks third in tackles for loss. But Alabama's offensive line is second in the league in protecting its quarterback, as Sims has been sacked nine times. Further, Alabama has yielded 41 tackles for loss, which is second in the league.
Whichever unit can assert its will on the other will have a huge say in determining a winner.
ALABAMA PLAYER TO WATCH
Cooper is the obvious answer. But tailback T.J. Yeldon might be just as critical to Alabama's chances. Banged up late last week in the overtime win at LSU, Yeldon's playing status for the game was in question earlier this week, but it appears the junior will play. With 686 yards and five touchdowns this season, Yeldon could play a key role for an offense that is seventh in the SEC in rushing offense. He also could ease the burden on Sims and Cooper.
-- Brandon Walker
1. Saban casts shadow over SEC Media Days COLLEGE SPORTS
2. Former players praise MSU's hiring of Foxhall COLLEGE SPORTS
3. Malzahn confident about Auburn's chances in 2018 COLLEGE SPORTS
4. Howland's Bulldogs find culture, continuity COLLEGE SPORTS
5. MSU picked third in SEC West COLLEGE SPORTS