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Alabama vs Mississippi State preview: When the Bulldogs have the Ball

Kylin Hill is good.

NCAA Football: Mississippi State at Texas A&M John Glaser-USA TODAY Sports

The Bulldogs have consistently fielded some rather inept offenses in the years since Dak Prescott, mostly held back by the inconsistency of Nick Fitzgerald. This year, they’ve somewhat rallied behind junior do-it-all running back Kylin Hill, who leads the SEC in rushing so far in 2019.

They run a fairly standard power spread scheme, similar to what they implemented in the years when Dan Mullen was still head coach— a derivative of the same scheme that Urban Meyer first popularized at Utah before perfecting at Florida with Tim Tebow at QB. It relies on a QB who can run for first downs and throw slants while the receivers operate as wide as possible and H-backs move around creatively to open wholes for a power run game.

That said, they rely a lot less on receiver sweeps and screens than the Meyer/Mullen offenses of old have, instead using the receivers in a bit more vertical manner, running deep slants and seams with regularity.

Running back Kylin Hill is the central focal point of this offense, and the 215-pound junior has been outstanding. 1,027 yards on 176 attempts with 9 touchdowns are numbers that have vaulted him to the top of the SEC. He’s been running at a 47% success rate— impressive in its own right— but even moreso is the fact that he’s converting nearly 90% of all short yardage attempts on the season. Senior Nick Gibson is the second running back, and he only has 27 carries to Hill’s 176. This is a team that truly has stuck with the bell-cow back mentality over the running-back-by-committee approach.

In the passing game, 6’5” senior Tommy Stevens started the season as a starter, but went down with an injury in week 2, leaving room for freshman Garrett Shrader to come in. Shrader didn’t look back, though, and was eventually named the true starter over Stevens. However, Stevens has continued to play in most games, and played in the full game on 11/2 against Arkansas as Shrader sat out with a health issue.

Shrader is a tall, lumbering player that’s significantly faster than he looks. He’s second on the team with 504 rushing yards, and leads with 1,022 passing yards. He’s been very inconsistent— 55% completion rate and 39% success rate— but he’s the better rusher of the two, and has double the explosive pass rate as slightly less mobile Stevens (who, for his part, has 64% completion rate and 47% completion rate with 687 yards).

The receiving group has four guys who all have a fairly comparable share of targets. 6’5” junior Osirus Mitchell leads with 26 catches and 377 yards with a very solid 55% success rate when he’s targeted. 6’4” senior Stephen Guidry is the next most targeted, followed closely by 5’9” slot phenom Deddrick Thomas, and the two have nearly identical numbers in catches and yards, though Guidry has three more touchdowns. Senior Isaiah Zuber rounds out the group with 14 catches for 211 yards.

We’ve had some issues with pulling data for all the advanced stats this weeks, so you’ll have to go without the fancy graphics and just get a raw table from me instead. I’ve limited variables to some of the more important ones so as not to make it too big, but I apologize for it not looking as nice as usual (especially if you’re on mobile).

Mississippi State defense vs Alabama Offense

Team stuff.rte stuff.rte.rank exp.rte.rush exp.rte.rush.rank exp.rte.pass exp.rte.pass.rank havoc.rte havoc.rte.rank
Team stuff.rte stuff.rte.rank exp.rte.rush exp.rte.rush.rank exp.rte.pass exp.rte.pass.rank havoc.rte havoc.rte.rank
Mississippi State 0.462857 30 0.422764 58 0.145714 12 0.12 17 0.085366 74 0.426966 63 0.789474 16 0.166107 46
Alabama 0.410169 56 0.362538 30 0.159322 102 0.074576 34 0.057402 11 0.367816 23 0.659091 45 0.234026 16

The Bulldog offense looks to have a bit of an advantage on the Alabama defense in the running game. They’re #30 in success rate compared to Alabama at #56, #17 in explosive rate to Alabama’s #34, and, most notably, #12 at not getting stuffed behind the line of scrimmage, compared to Alabama’s putrid #102 defense in the same metric.

Not good.

The Tide’s run defense is going to leak yards, both to the elusive Kylin Hill and likely a frustratingly amount of times on 3rd down to QB scrambles. It will probably be similar to the rushing day we saw against the Alabama defense when they played Ole Miss earlier this season.

Passing-wise, though, the Alabama defense should absolutely smother the Bulldog aerial attack. Though the loss to LSU knocked Alabama’s defense out of the “great” category in nearly every statistic, they are still an elite squad at not giving up explosive passes— And State is decidedly not elite there. They’ll move the ball some on shorter passes when Alabama sells out to stop runs, but it should be inconsistent and not too dangerous.

The best bit, though, is redzone success rate. A strong rushing team typically requires efficient redzone play, but Mississippi State only has the 63rd ranked success rate there, while Alabama’s defense has generally bowed up with their backs to the goal line.

So look for a lot rushing yards and some long drives from the Bulldogs, but ultimately not a whole lot of points.