The Mississippi State defense ranks #60 in the country in total defense. They are giving up an average of 389.2 yards per game and 30.2 points per game. The Bulldogs success rate on defense comes in at #91 in the country. Their rush success rate is #72 and their pass success rate is #107. As for yardage, the Bulldogs are allowing an average of 227.3 yards through the air, 161.9 yards on the ground, and 6.35 yards per play.
The Bulldogs defensive coordinator is Bob Shoop, who is in his second season in this position in Starkville. In his first season, the Bulldogs defense finished inside the top 10 in all four major defensive categories (#1 in total defense, #2 in scoring defense, #7 in passing defense, and #2 in rushing defense). This year, his defense hasn’t had that kind of success.... Brian Baker no longer the defensive line position coach may have something to do with that? The Bulldogs typically run a base 4-2-5 defense, which has four linemen, two linebackers, and five defensive backs. It’s a stunt-heavy blitz scheme reminiscent of what Alabama faced against Duke in the season opener.
The Mississippi State defensive line is led by redshirt senior defensive end Chauncey Rivers, redshirt junior defensive end Marquiss Spencer, and redshirt freshman defensive tackle Fabien Lovett. Rivers, a preseason All-SEC selection, leads the team with 2.5 sacks this season. Which is... not great. He saw a lot of action last season, playing 339 snaps and all 13 games, but it hasn’t necessarily transferred into production this season. Spencer has 25 tackles this season. He has seen a lot of playing time during his time in Starkville but missed 9 games last season with an injury. Lovett has 11 tackles so far this season. He was ranked the 6th best player in Mississippi out of high school.
The linebackers for Mississippi State redshirt junior Erroll Thompson, redshirt senior Leo Lewis, and junior Willie Gay Jr. Erroll Thompson is a 2019 team captain and preseason All-SEC selection. He has been a starter for the Bulldogs since his freshman season. He leads the team with 63 total tackles. Leo Lewis (remember that name? He could be starting at linebacker for Alabama now...) is not far behind Thompson with 50 total tackles and 1 sack this season. He has been a starter since his redshirt freshman season. During that year, he was named a FWAA Freshman All-American. Willie Gay Jr. has played in almost every game during his previous seasons in Starkville. However, he has missed all but 3 this season with a suspension. He has 12 tackles this season and returned an interception for a touchdown.
The Mississippi State secondary is manned by redshirt senior safety Jaquarius Landrews, redshirt junior safety C.J. Morgan, and redshirt junior corner Cameron Dantzler. Landrews has 54 total tackles and 4 pass deflections so far this season. He is a returning starter for the Bulldogs defense. C.J. Morgan is a returning starter that has seen action every year that he has been in Starkville. He has 53 total tackles, 8 pass deflections, and 1 interception in 2019. Cameron Dantzler is the best player in the Mississippi State secondary and is probably one of the better defensive backs in the country. He has 28 total tackles, 0.5 sacks, and 2 interceptions this season for the Bulldogs. He is on several award watch lists and was named a preseason All-American.
The Alabama offense laps the Miss State defense by leaps in bounds in nearly every advanced category, be it success rates, explosive rates, you name it. It’s a mismatch, and no amount of analyzing can pull a surprising match-up for the Bulldogs out of the stats. They have a bad defense. Alabama has an elite offense.
Look, Alabama made lots of mistakes in the game against LSU. They should and will bounce back against Mississippi State. Alabama’s offense is still one of the best in the country. Tua Tagovailoa is a game time decision, but I think he will play. Either way, I don’t think Tua Tagovailoa or Mac Jones will have any turnovers against the Bulldogs and I expect a big game from whichever guy plays quarterback and their receiving corps as well. Whether he plays or not, Tua will continue to work towards getting back to 100% healthy. I expect to see Alabama continue to utilize Najee Harris and the rushing attack as they started to do in the second half surge against LSU.
I expect Alabama to have a big game. My reasoning? Well, because they have to if they want to stay in playoff contention.