Early Analysis: Mississippi State vs Alabama

No. 11 Mississippi State at No. 1 Alabama (BCS rankings)
Saturday, 8:30 p.m., ESPN
Line: Alabama -24

Mississippi State has jumped out to a nice little 7-0 start this season, but could be in for a rude awakening this weekend in Tuscaloosa. After all, Alabama is on a mission this season and is Nick Saban going to let Mississippi State, a 24-point underdog, come in to his house and spoil everything? The odds seem stacked against Dan Mullen's team this weekend, but let's take a closer look to see if we have a shot at witnessing a massive SEC shock this weekend that would certainly shake up the entire BCS picture as well.

For Mississippi State to Win: Alabama does a lot of things exceptionally well. One of the reasons Alabama is so difficult to beat is they pummel their opponents early on in the game, nearly delivering a knockout punch before halftime on an almost weekly basis. The Crimson Tide have scored an average of 26.3 points per game in the first half while allowing just 4.4 first half points per game (only Penn State and Boise State have better first half defensive numbers). It may sounds much easier said than done, but Mississippi State absolutely needs to keep the game within a manageable distance as they head to the locker room Saturday night.

Alabama has scored an average of 14.7 points per game in the second half, when the Tide are able to mostly relax on their way to victory. The only problem is Alabama has allowed just 3.9 points per game in the second half. If Mississippi State is not within one score at the break, then it could already be lights out for the Bulldogs.

For Alabama to Win: Do not underestimate Mississippi State. Not that anyone expects Nick Saban to have his team unprepared for a game, but with LSU coming up next week and with many suggesting Mississippi State is a few steps behind Alabama anyway, you can almost never be too careful.

Mississippi State bring an average overall offense, ranked 57th in passing and 47th in rushing, with almost nothing to really fear from an Alabama defensive standpoint. Alabama has allowed a national best average of 4.6 rushing and 6.1 passing first downs per game this season. As long as Alabama's defense continues to do a solid job in getting off the field, they will be just fine against a less-than-imposing offensive unit.

Key Player, Mississippi State: One of the reasons Mississippi State has been able to string together wins has been the dependable play of quarterback Tyler Russell. through seven games Russell has completed 60.1 percent of his passes, and in October he has completed 64.9 percent of his pass attempts. He is passing for fewer yards per attempt this season than he has in his previous two seasons of partial work, but he has passed for 15 touchdowns while throwing just one interception. Against Alabama Russell will need to be precise and accurate with his passes. Alabama has 13 interceptions this season.

Key Player, Alabama: When it comes to stopping Mississippi State's running game, look for Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley to play a active role in bringing down Ladarius Perkins. The junior linebacker has two interceptions this season, one of which was returned for a touchdown, and he has 35 solo tackles (58 total) heading in to this weekend. Mosley has the ability to penetrate the backfield, with 2.5 sacks and 29 yards lost on tackles for a loss. The Butkus Award semifinalist has gone from part-time player to full-time star for Alabama, despite splitting some playing time at WILL linebacker with Nico Johnson.

Key Stat: Alabama's defense has forced many of their opponents to try and take to the air to catch up this season, but Alabama ranks number one in the country in opponent passer rating. Opposing quarterbacks have compiled a rating of 83.1, more than eight points better than the next best team, Oregon (89.8). What is interesting though is opposing quarterbacks have actually put up better ratings in Tuscaloosa than when playing at home against Alabama. Entering this weekend opposing quarterbacks have accumulated a 91.8 rating in Bryant-Denny Stadium. When Alabama is on the road, quarterbacks have a 77.1 rating.

But let's not get too carried away. Alabama's 91.8 opponent passer rating at home is still eighth best in the country (Florida's 69.0 is the best).


Kevin McGuire is the national college football writer for Examiner.com and host of the No 2-Minute Warning podcast. Follow him on TwitterGoogle+and Facebook.

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Kevin McGuire

About Kevin McGuire

Contributor to College Football Talk on NBCSports.com. Member of the FWAA and National Football Foundation. College Football Hall of Fame voter. Also managing Bloguin's NittanyLionsDen.com and Macho-Row.com.