How to Beat Bama Without a Running Game

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It’s pretty clear Mississippi State does not have a running game in 2015. Well, at least from the running backs anyway who are averaging just 76 yards per game among Brandon Holloway, Ashton Shumpert, Dontavian Lee and Aeries Williams. Overall, the Bulldogs rank 11th in the SEC at a hair under 150 yards per game on the ground.

That’s not good news when facing Alabama. The Tide stuff even the best running teams. They suffocate you by imposing their will and eventually to fall right into their hands by making a mistake. Kirby Smart’s defenses only give up 100 yards rushing few times a year. When they lose, it’s most likely because there were leaks in the rushing defense:

  • 2014 vs. Ohio State – 281 yards
  • 2013 vs. Auburn – 296 yards
  • 2012 vs. Texas A&M – 165 yards
  • 2011 vs. LSU – 148 yards
  • 2010 vs. Auburn – 108 yards
  • 2010 vs. LSU – 225 yards
  • 2010 vs. South Carolina – 110 yards
  • 2008 vs. Florida – 142 yards

Those are 8 of Alabama’s 12 losses since 2008. They’ve given up at least 100 yards rushing only 31 times out of 103 games in that time frame (30%). So you stand a 26% chance of beating Alabama if you can get to 100 yards rushing, but only a 5.5% chance if you don’t.

The Bulldogs have done it three times (2009, 2010, 2014) during this time frame against Bama. Considering their lack of success running the ball this year, they probably won’t notch a fourth unless Dak is able to rush to 70+ (which has has done three times this year).  So how do you beat Alabama without a running game?

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I think we can go back to two games: 2013 MSU vs. Bama, 2014 Ole Miss vs. Bama. I’ll discount 2015 Ole Miss vs. Bama where the Rebels only had 92 yards rushing because the Tide had five turnovers and that’s never going to happen again. But in the other two games, turnovers were key as well.

In OM’s 2014 win over Bama they hung around, at home, made a few key plays and then got an interception late in the endzone to seal the game. Ole Miss also withstood the storm after they made a mistake of their own with a botched punt that went for a touchdown to give Bama a 14-3 lead in the first half.

In 2013, Mississippi State hung tough with Alabama for four quarters. Tyler Russell played the majority of the game before leaving with an injury and State only rushed for 53 yards. Alabama turned the ball over four times in this game but State did not take advantage of it. And they allowed a touchdown right before the half as they did so many times that year. MSU had plenty of chances in that game, but made to many mistakes on routine plays.

Physically, State has matched up with Alabama in the trenches before. In that 2013 game Nick Saban commented that they were unable to control the line of scrimmage like they usually do. In a home game for MSU, with Alabama coming off a physical game with LSU, it’s the perfect recipe for the Bulldogs to match the Tide punch for punch up front. While that may not lead to rushing yards, it can keep the passing game alive, and potentially force turnovers on defense.

Having a running game is the best recipe for beating Alabama, but they can be had without one. Ole Miss had just 76 yards when they beat them last year. But you have to create some turnovers, not let them score non-offensive touchdowns (like they did five times against UGA and A&M) and take advantage of your opportunities – the moment cannot be too big for you or it won’t happen. Alabama is intimidating. Dropped balls, poor decision and other uncharacteristic things plague MSU almost every year because they get tight. You have to be intensely focused and execute to beat Bama.