Mississippi State is Better Equipped to Beat Alabama in 2015


Oct 17, 2015; College Station, TX, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban talks with sideline reporter Allie LaForce before a game against the Texas A&M Aggies at Kyle Field. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Just like every other year, if Mississippi State is going to have any chance to win the SEC West, they have to slay Goliath, more commonly referred to as the Alabama Crimson Tide. It has always been a daunting task, and it will continue to be so in 2015 as well. If the Bulldogs are to pull the feat off, it will be the first time Mississippi State has beaten Alabama since Nick Saban’s first year as head coach in 2007.

But the 2014 version of the Bulldogs was one of the best teams the school has ever had, if not the best. So it has to be silly to think this year’s team is even remotely capable of pulling off what would be considered a significant upset, right?

Perhaps to the average fan on the outside looking in, but this year’s version of Mississippi State is going to be more capable of toppling the Tide. And there are a number of reasons to believe so.

Home Cooking
The first and most obvious example is the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide will play this game inside the confines of Davis Wade Stadium. Since Saban took over, Mississippi State is 1-3 against Alabama in Starkville and the Crimson Tide has an average margin of victory of 13.25 points per game in those 4 meetings. When the games have been played in Tuscaloosa, Alabama has won every time and the average margin of victory has been 20.25 points. Mississippi State has also been within striking distance entering the fourth quarter the last two meetings in Starkville before Alabama sealed the game with fourth quarter touchdowns.

Air Raid vs. Ground War
Another reason the Bulldogs have a better chance of beating Alabama this season is the strength of Mississippi State’s offense is in the passing game, not the running game. The Bulldogs bullied their way to early leads against opponents behind the ground game of Josh Robinson and Dak Prescott in 2014. Last season, the Bulldogs stubbornly tried to run the ball over and over again before finally realizing it wasn’t going to happen.

In the last six times Alabama has lost, the Tide has given up an average of 283 yards passing per game and only 167.5 yards rushing per game. The front seven for Alabama has always been one of the best in the country since Nick Saban took over, and this year is no different. Alabama is third in the country against the run but 38th in the country against the pass in terms of yards allowed.

Mississippi State is not going to come out and try to establish a running game like they did last season against Alabama. The Bulldogs are currently 95th in the country in yards per game on the ground, and 21st in passing yards per game. Mississippi State will most certainly try to run, but they will try to pick their spots much more so than they have in the past.

Coker vs. Simms
One of the things that killed Mississippi State against Alabama in 2014 was the scrambling ability of Blake Simms. On the final scoring drive for the Crimson Tide against Mississippi State, Simms had two plays where he scrambled for first downs and kept the drive alive on 3rd and long. The Bulldogs had done all they could do in the secondary to shut the plays down, but his mobility in the pocket allowed him to make something out of nothing.

Jake Coker simply does not have that as a part of his repertoire. If the pocket collapses around Coker, he won’t be able to make the plays Simms was able to make.

Amari Cooper is a Raider
The most explosive player for Alabama this season is Running Back Derrick Henry. Henry is a load to handle and the only other running back in the SEC better than Henry is LSU’s Leonard Fournette. But the Bulldogs did a semi-decent job of not allowing Fournette to completely dominate the Bulldogs that Mississippi State didn’t stand a chance. Yes, he had a great game, but Mississippi State held him to one of his lowest rushing outputs of the season.

Mississippi State is a better unit defending the run than they are the pass, especially with Will Redmond and Kendrick Market having suffered season ending injuries earlier this year. Amari Cooper was as explosive as they came, and he won’t be darting up and down the field this year. Cooper had 8 catches for 88 yards and a touchdown against Mississippi State in 2014.

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Dak Prescott is a better decision maker
The most important reason Mississippi State will have a better chance of winning is the development of Dak Prescott in the 2015 season as a passer. His decision making is a stark contrast to where it was a season ago. Entering the Alabama game, Prescott had thrown 8 interceptions in 9 games. He ended up throwing three against Alabama, all of which took Mississippi State out of potential scoring opportunities.

Even though Prescott had only thrown 8 interceptions prior to that game, he had thrown 6 of them in the three games prior to Alabama. The poor decision making hurt more than ever against the Tide. Dak Prescott completed just over 50% of his passes and was the biggest reason the Bulldogs lost the game.

But instead of fading as the Bulldogs enter the game against Mississippi State, Dak Prescott is thriving. Dak Prescott has now thrown for over 300 yards in three straight games. In that same time span, he has completed 69.5 percent of his 118 passes and 10 touchdowns against just 1 interception.

None of this is to say Mississippi State is going to win. This also isn’t to say Mississippi State fans should think this is going to be a cake walk. If the Bulldogs are going to win, they are going to have to play one of the best games they have played all season long. But despite the fact Mississippi State doesn’t have a 1 beside their name this year, the Bulldogs will have a better chance of winning this season than they did in 2014.