November 13, 2014 9:57:56 AM
Dak Prescott, quarterback
Prescott is Mississippi State's most important offensive player every week. Therefore, this space is usually reserved for a player who might see a favorable matchup, such as tailback Josh Robinson at Kentucky or wide receiver De'Runnya Wilson against Texas A&M. But as far as Prescott goes, the trip to Alabama could be a legacy-maker. A win would push No. 1 to 10-0 and likely would catapult the Haughton, Louisiana, native to the front of the Heisman Trophy race. It also would solidify his lofty status in the annals of MSU football history.
Doing so, however, will require Prescott to play like he did in a three-game stretch that included victories against then-No. 8 LSU, then-No. 6 Texas A&M, and then-No. 2 Auburn. In that three-game run, Prescott passed for 782 yards and five touchdowns and ran for 293 yards and six scores.
In his last three games, Prescott numbers have dipped, but Alabama is on a different level than Kentucky, Arkansas, and Tennessee-Martin. The Crimson Tide, who are third in the Southeastern Conference at 185.6 passing yards per game, have been good but not great in pass coverage. They are 12th in the league with six interceptions.
"I think his experience helps going into a hostile environment," MSU coach Dan Mullen said of Prescott. "That is always tough as a quarterback. I think he has been in that situation before. A couple of years ago, he got in the game in Tuscaloosa. Now he has played in big games. He is going to walk on the field with confidence knowing that the situation is not going to be too big for him."
MSU ground game against Alabama rushing defense
When MSU has the football, the showdown up front could be a huge factor. The Bulldogs, behind Prescott and Robinson, are rushing for 254 yards per game, good for fourth in the league. They are tied for the SEC lead with 11 touchdowns each, showing a nose for the end zone that could be big against a defense that has been the nation's stingiest against the run. The Crimson Tide's defensive line has allowed 808 rushing yards, including an average of 2.82 yards per carry. Perhaps most impressive, Alabama's defense has allowed only two rushing touchdowns, which is best in the nation.
"You have to block them," Mullen said. "They are big and physical up front. If we are going to have success we have to block their guys. We have to capitalize when we have opportunities. In a game like this, every play is not going to be a huge play. We have to capitalize when we get an opportunity."
STAT TO WATCH
MSU's offense has struggled recently with turnovers, as mistakes against Kentucky and Arkansas led to points. Mullen talked at length in his weekly press conference about cleaning up MSU's miscues.
"If we continue down that path, they will get us," Mullen said. "If you look, we have capitalized on turnovers in some big games. We have lost a couple of those battles the last couple of weeks and have found a way to win. They are not the deciding factor, but I think they can be a huge factor in deciding games."
Alabama has forced 12 turnovers, which is 11th in the league.
De'Runnya Wilson, wide receiver
In MSU's three-game stretch of wins against top-10 opponents, Wilson was one of MSU's most dangerous weapons. The 6-foot-5, 225-pound sophomore had four catches for 91 yards and a touchdown at LSU before posting back-to-back four-catch, 72-yard outings against Texas A&M and Auburn. In the past three games, Wilson has caught four passes for 48 yards and no scores. Against Alabama, Wilson will need to give Prescott a big, physical target on the outside.
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Reggie Ragland, linebacker
The junior's emergence as a force in the middle of Alabama's defense has been huge. Ragland, a 6-2, 254-pounder, had a game-high 13 tackles in the 20-13 overtime victory at LSU. In the past five games, Ragland has 48 tackles and an interception.