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Alabama vs. Mississippi State Preview: When Alabama has the ball

Mac Jones and company will be tested by a tough Bulldogs defense.

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

After watching Alabama run roughshod over every defense it has faced thus far, including a Georgia squad that is often considered the best in the nation, it’s tough not to be bullish this weekend. Still, Mississippi State has managed to turn many of the matchups between the geographically closest SEC foes into ugly street fights over the years, and looking past them in Mike Leach’s inaugural season could have the same effect.

Upon his hiring, Leach brought in Zach Arnett from San Diego State to run the defense. Arnett is a disciple of the Rocky Long 3-3-5, a stunting one-gap scheme designed to confuse the offensive line and get free runners on both standard and passing downs. Alabama’s experience on the offensive line and stellar communication thus far will be tested this weekend.

Since allowing Myles Brennan to roll up 345 yards through the air in their season opener, the Bulldogs have managed to effectively limit passing games. In their last outing, Texas A&M QB Kellen Mond was held to only 139 passing yards, his worst output of the season. Coming off a bye week, albeit a tumultuous one from a personnel standpoint as several players decided to transfer, they should be rested and well prepared to try and limit the juggernaut Tide attack.

State almost has a bunch of big, homegrown, blue collar nasties up front and this year is no exception. Three in-state prospects: seniors Kobe Jones and Marquiss Spencer on the ends with sophomore Jaden Crumedy in the middle, combine for 870 lbs. and including top backup Nathan Pickering have six sacks among them, which is pretty impressive for a defensive line in only four games. They have also allowed only 2.9 yards per rush on the season, though Texas A&M was able to gash them a bit. Alabama’s offensive line is one of the very best in the nation, but they will have their hands full this week, particularly if LG Deonte Brown’s injury lingers.

At linebacker, the Bulldogs are led by senior MLB Erroll Thompson. He came into the season with 29 career starts, and that experience has keyed the unit’s early success. Thompson also leads the defense with 39 tackles and has added a sack of his own. He is flanked by promising WLB Aaron Brule, a converted safety who plays fast and has tallied two sacks plus a PBU and a fumble recovery. Stour 260 lb. junior Tyrus Wheat is called a SLB but often plays on the line of scrimmage, similar to the Jack LB position at Alabama.

In the secondary, the name to know is junior Marcus Murphy. He plays what is called the “Bulldog” position, which is essentially a rover. He will line up all over the field, looking to create havoc. Mississippi State’s DBs are all big and physical, each weighing in north of 200 lbs. They have been outstanding in run support and will try to muscle Alabama’s wideouts, but keeping up with DeVonta Smith and company might be a problem. It will be interesting to see how often Arnett rolls Murphy up, leaving the back end exposed. Playing single high against this offense can get you blown out in a hurry.

The biggest challenge here will be matching intensity. Leach seems to be cutting players this week in effort to change the culture of the program. Coming off a bye week with nothing to lose, you can bet that the Tide will get their best shot, which is par for the course. The Bulldogs should be well rested and prepared with the extra week of film, while the Tide look forward to a week off next weekend. As long as Alabama executes, they should put a nice number on the board. Come in sluggish, however, and one of those street fights may well break out.