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Game Preview: Mississippi State Bulldogs at No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide (via Crimson Magazine)

11 Nov 2016 Stan J. Griffin

By Stan J. Griffin: November 10, 2016

A 10-0 victory at then-No. 13 LSU this past weekend completed a grueling four-game Southeastern Conference gauntlet for Nick Saban's No. 1 University of Alabama football team that also included games against ranked opponents Arkansas, Tennessee and Texas A&M, with three of those pivotal league games away from the friendly confines of Bryant-Denny Stadium.
A bit earlier in the season it was assumed by many that if the Crimson Tide was able to make it through that quartet of SEC clashes undefeated, it would generally be smooth sailing for Alabama, at least until the Nov. 26 Iron Bowl showdown against archrival Auburn.
Not so fast.
Saban's team is now gearing up to host Dan Mullen's Mississippi State Bulldog team, a team coming off a huge 35-28 upset win over then-No. 4 Texas A&M last weekend in Starkville, and a team which has shown significant improvement over the past three weeks following a shaky 2-4 start.
Alabama (9-0 overall, 6-0 in SEC play) clashes with the Bulldogs (4-5 overall, 2-3 in league play) Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. CT and the contest will be televised by ESPN.
Saban said earlier this week that he knows the Bulldogs will certainly not be a pushover by any means for his top-ranked Crimson Tide squad.
"They have played better and better each and every week, and they're probably playing their best football of the season right now, pretty obvious with their win over Texas A&M how good they are playing right now," Saban said. "Their quarterback (sophomore Nick Fitzgerald) has done a really good job for them all year long and he's kind of the center of what they do in terms of how much he runs the ball and his effectiveness as a runner as well as being a very effective passer. (Senior) Fred Ross is a very good receiver and an outside threat that can create explosive plays for them and they've been able to run effectively, and defensively they create a lot of issues and problems in terms of negative plays and how aggressive they are and they're very well-coached and good special teams. (Mullen) has done a great job there for a lot of years and we've always had some really difficult games and that's what will be our expectation in this game."

Fitzgerald has shown explosive abilities at numerous times this season in leading a Bulldog offense that averages nearly 31 points per game and 446 yards per contest, and MSU racked up 574 yards of offense, including a season-high 365 yards on the ground last week in the stunner over Kevin Sumlin's Aggies.
He leads the Bulldogs in rushing and passing, as he has carried the ball 135 times for 839 yards and eight touchdowns. Fitzgerald has also passed for 1,705 yards, along with 16 TDs and nine interceptions.
He accounted for 391 yards of total offense against Texas A&M.
Sophomore Aeris Williams is the second-leading ground gainer for MSU with 346 yards and two TDs while senior Ashton Shumpert has tallied 237 yards with one score. Fellow senior Brandon Holloway has 221 yards and a TD.
Ross has enjoyed another prolific season in Starkville as he has hauled in 54 passes for 641 yards and nine scoring receptions. Junior Donald Gray has added 27 catches for 511 yards and four TDs.  Redshirt freshman Keith Mixon and sophomore Malik Dear are also talented and capable targets with 17 catches each.
Defensively, senior middle linebacker Richie Brown leads the Bulldogs with 76 tackles, with redshirt freshman linebacker Leo Lewis adding 60, junior "Star" J.T. Gray 53 and senior "Viper"Johnathan Calvin 48. Senior defensive end A.J. Jefferson leads MSU in tackles for loss with 10 while Calvin has nine.
Calvin has tallied a team-leading five sacks while Jefferson has four.
Sophomore free safety Mark McLaurin and senior free safety Kivon Coman lead the Bulldogs with two interceptions each.
Junior Westin Graves has converted nine of his 15 field goal attempts with a long kick of 48 yards while fellow junior Logan Cooke has punted 40 times for an average of 39.8 yards, with a long boot of 68 yards.
For Alabama defensively, it must find a way to consistently contain the nifty Fitzgerald as too many big plays on the ground or through the air by him could lead to an uncomfortable day for the Crimson Tide as much of the success of Mullen's team revolves around the effectiveness of its versatile field general.
Offensively the Crimson Tide may have to be a bit patient on the offensive side of the ball as the Bulldogs have a somewhat stingy rushing defense, ranking No. 6 in the SEC.
If Tide freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts can have a more effective day passing the ball, in terms of his accuracy, there may be some opportunities through the air for Alabama as the Bulldogs rank dead last in the league in passing defense, surrendering about 264 yards per game through the air.

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