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Previewing Alabama vs. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs Offense

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Texas A&M v Mississippi State Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images

Quarterback

NCAA Football: Texas A&M at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Starters:

07 Nick Fitzgerald (So.) - The first thing that stands out about Nick Fitzgerald is his ability to make plays with his legs. His 839 rushing yards are the third most in the country by a quarterback behind Heisman favorite Lamar Jackson and South Florida’s Quinton Flowers. At 6’5” 230 pounds, Fitzgerald is a physically impressive player who is a gifted athlete. Over the course of his last four games, Fitzgerald has accounted for 17 total touchdowns, and he is by far the biggest threat on Mississippi State’s offense that could cause the Alabama defense headaches.

2016 Statistics: 141/252 (56.3%), 1,705 pass yards, 16 touchdowns, nine interceptions

Running Back

NCAA Football: Auburn at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Starters:

10 Brandon Holloway (Sr.) - Holloway returned against A&M after being out with an injury the previous three games. The small scat back -- listed at 5’8” 165 pounds -- has been given a clean bill of health, but don’t be surprised if he sees limited work. He only received four carries in State’s win against Texas A&M -- only managing to put up 13 yards rushing. Mississippi State’s run game has been much more effective with a combination of Williams and Shumpert leading the way.

2016 Statistics: 49 carries, 231 rushing yards, one touchdown

14 receptions, 92 receiving yards

Names to Know:

32 Ashton Shumpert (Sr.) - At 6’2” 218 pounds, Shumpert has a much better build to hold up against SEC defenses on a week-to-week basis. He has started four games this season for the Bulldogs, and he has averaged an impressive 5.0 yards per carry over the course of the season. He did, however, receive only two carries against Texas A&M, so it remains to be seen how much work he will receive against Alabama on Saturday.

2016 Statistics: 47 carries, 248 rushing yards, one touchdown

Two receptions, 25 receiving yards

27 Aeris Williams (So.) - Williams is quickly turning into the featured back in Starkville -- even though he is still listed on the depth chart as the #3 guy behind Holloway and Shumpert. At 6’1” 217 pounds, the sophomore from West Point, Mississippi looks the part, and don’t be surprised to see him lead the Bulldogs in carries this Saturday. He is currently second on the team in rushing statistics -- only trailing Fitzgerald -- and he is also coming off a dominate performance against the Aggies in which he ran for 140 yards on 24 carries with a touchdown.

2016 Statistics: 76 carries, 357 rushing yards, two touchdowns

Four receptions, 17 receiving yards

Wide Receiver

NCAA Football: Mississippi at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Starters:

08 Fred Ross (Sr.) - Ross could very well be the most impressive player on Mississippi State’s roster. He currently leads the SEC in touchdown receptions with nine -- including seven touchdowns in his last eight games. The 6’2” 205 pound senior is a nightmare in the slot, and it’s possible that he could cause some problems for Tony Brown and the Alabama defense. If Mississippi State cannot establish a consistent run game against Alabama’s formidable front-seven, expect to see a heavy dose of Ross -- potential for double digit receptions -- on Saturday to compensate.

2016 Statistics: 54 receptions, 641 receiving yards, nine touchdowns

06 Donald Gray (Jr.) - Gray has been a solid compliment to Ross this season. He has a much different build -- listed at 5’10” 204 pounds -- but he has found ways to be effective in the offense. He is currently the only player in the SEC with two catches of 70+ yards, and that kind of big play ability could be utilized against an Alabama defense that has given up their fair share of big gains.

2016 Statistics: 27 receptions, 511 receiving yards, four touchdowns

22 Malik Dear (So.) - Dan Mullen likes to use Malik Dear in a variety of ways. Even as a receiver, he sees plenty of looks out of the backfield as a running back and even took a hand-off 45 yards for a touchdown against Kentucky earlier this season. At 5’9” 220 pounds, Dear has a stocky build, and his power as a runner has been utilized recently for an improving Mississippi State offense.

2016 Statistics: 17 receptions, 179 receiving yards, one touchdown

13 carries, 114 rush yards, one touchdown

Names to Know:

23 Keith Mixon (RS Fr.) - Mixon has seen both of his touchdowns this season come within the last five games. The redshirt freshman from Birmingham, Alabama isn’t a big receiver -- only 5’8 175 pounds -- but he has excellent quickness and an ability to turn in big plays. Mixon set a career high in receptions last week against A&M with five, so it’ll be interesting to see how much more involved Mixon will be in the offense moving forward this season.

2016 Statistics: 17 receptions, 199 receiving yards, two touchdowns

Tight End

Mississippi State v Massachusetts Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images

Starters:

82 Farrod Green (RS Fr.) - Green has started the last six games at tight end for the Bulldogs, but he is by no means a focal point of the offense at this time. His career high in receptions is three -- recording that many against both UMass and Samford this season -- and his lone touchdown was recorded against UMass as well. Green is a little undersized for a tight end -- 6’3” 232 pounds -- but he does have some functional movement that allows him to be effective getting open. Expect to see him on Saturday, but just don’t expect major production.

2016 Statistics: Eight receptions, 90 receiving yards, one touchdown

Names to Know:

81 Justin Johnson (So.) - Johnson is another player who just really hasn’t made much of an impact in the passing game for Mississippi State. He has played in 20 games so far in his career with one start, but he has been used sparingly. At only 6’3” 239 pounds, he isn’t much bigger than Green. Johnson is a true sophomore from Hoover High School in Birmingham, Alabama.

2016 Statistics: Three receptions, 21 receiving yards

Offensive Line

LSU v Mississippi State Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Starters:

55 Martinas Rankin (RS Jr.) - Rankin is a former four-star JUCO All-American who committed to Mississippi State over major programs such as Oklahoma, Texas and Florida. The 6’5” 307 pound redshirt junior has started the last six games at left tackle for the Bulldogs, and has gotten better each week. It remains to be seen how he will hold up against Alabama’s fierce pass rush, but Rankin is a talented player who could have a very bright future.

2016 Statistics: Six starts (all at left tackle)

62 Devon Desper (Sr.) - Desper has shown the versatility to effectively play either guard spot for the Bulldogs’ offense. As a senior, he also has the necessary experience with 24 career starts under his belt. The 6’4” 305 pound mauler has been one of the best guards in the SEC this season. He shows a willingness to get out and block as a puller, but there have been issues with consistency at times.

2016 Statistics: Nine starts (seven at left guard and two at right guard)

60 Jamaal Clayborn (Sr.) - Prior to the 2015 season, Clayborn was moved from guard to center where he has excelled ever since. He was named to the Rimington Trophy watch-list which is given to the best center in college football, and with 21 career starts, he is the glue that holds the offensive line together. The 6’4” 315 pound senior will be crucial to the Bulldogs’ success on offense.

2016 Statistics: Nine starts (all at center)

61 Deion Calhoun (So.) - Calhoun has missed a couple of starts due to injury this season, but he has been an effective player when he has been on the field. His play has fallen off a bit due to the ankle sprain, but the 6’3” 308 pound sophomore will need to play one of his better games of the season if he wants to be able to effectively be able to protect quarterback Nick Fitzgerald.

2016 Statistics: Seven starts (all at right guard)

58 Justin Senior (Sr.) - Senior’s last name is very fitting. He isn’t the only one along the offensive line that is considered a senior, but he is the “senior” of the group. With 35 career starts to his name, he is the most experienced offensive lineman on Mississippi State’s team. The 6’5” 310 pound right tackle held up very well against the Aggies’ solid front last week, but it remains to be seen if he can continue that high level of play against Alabama’s Tim Williams and company.

2016 Statistics: Nine starts (all at right tackle)

Names to Know:

67 Michael Story (RS Fr.) - When Deion Calhoun was forced to miss two games due to his ankle injury, it was Story who stepped into a starting role. The team switched versatile guard Devon Desper to right guard and slid story into his vacant spot at left guard. His play was up and down -- mostly down. The redshirt freshman still has a lot of room to grown, but the future does look bright for the 6’4” 295 pound guard from Ripley, Mississippi.

2016 Statistics: Two starts (both at left guard)

How Will Mississippi State’s Offense Attack the Alabama Defense?

Dan Mullen is going to try to get creative on offense to give his team the best chance to win. The Bulldogs have been at their best when they were able to establish a run game, but it will most likely come down to Fitzgerald’s arm in this one. The offensive line held up very well last week against Texas A&M’s pass rush, but Alabama’s front-seven is an entirely different beast.

Expect to see a lot of designed quarterback runs from Fitzgerald to try to put pressure on the defense and force the safeties to play shallow, but also expect the Bulldogs to try to get star slot receiver Fred Ross going with a lot of quick passes.

It’s going to come down to getting Fitzgerald in a groove early and giving him the confidence to play his game. It’s going to be hard for Mississippi State to get anything going on the ground if Fitzgerald doesn’t succeed early, but like I previously mentioned, it’ll be Fitzgerald’s arm that will determine if this is a complete blowout.

He has been an impressive player this season, but Fitzgerald forces too many throws -- he is currently second in the SEC in interceptions thrown (9) behind Tennessee’s Josh Dobbs (11) -- and Alabama can capitalize on that. Don’t be surprised to see Alabama return a turnover for a touchdown.