When you talk about Mississippi State, the conversation usually revolves around Mike Leach’s undying commitment to the Air Raid offense that results in 50+ pass plays virtually every week. In reality, however, the limited amount of success the Bulldogs have had under Leach has been the result of solid if not spectacular defensive play. Defensive coordinator Zach Arnett brought his 3-3-5 style focused on stopping the run from San Diego State, and they have done a decent job in that area.
Thus far in 2021, the Bulldogs are allowing only 89 rushing yards a game, good for ninth in the nation, and 3.32 per carry. A big reason for that, pun intended, is a pair of 310 lb. veterans on the defensive line in redshirt juniors Cameron Young and Jaden Crumedy. These guys do a good job of clogging things up inside and will present a challenge for the Tide offensive line. Another redshirt junior, Randy Charlton, goes 265 lb. and starts at the weakside end position. These three have been formidable, and junior Nathan Pickering can be disruptive when he rotates in as well.
The Bulldogs boast experience at all three levels of the defense, with only one starter who isn’t in his third year or later. As is often the case, that young player is among the most talented of the bunch. His name is Emmanuel Forbes, a 6’1” former consensus four-star cornerback who is in his sophomore campaign. Just shy of halfway through the season, the former Freshman All-American has two interceptions and two pass breakups. The Bulldogs return two starters at safety in seniorJalen Green and junior Collin Duncan. In general, busted assignments rarely happen in Arnett’s zone heavy scheme.
At linebacker, the Bulldogs are led in the middle by redshirt junior Nathaniel Watson. Watson isn’t the most athletic guy you’ll see in the SEC, but he is experienced and intelligent, and tends to be a sure tackler. Senior Tyrus Wheat is the main guy to watch off the edge. He and Carlton lead the team with two sacks apiece, and Wheat has three tackles for loss. The pass rush hasn’t been all that great for the Bulldogs as they focus primarily on limiting big plays.
As is the case with most teams, Alabama has a fairly large talent advantage across the board. Like Texas A&M last week, these Bulldogs won’t be easy to push around inside. They have plenty of beef on the line and are generally assignment sound. Arnett’s strategy is to force opposing offenses to sustain long drives, and it has been effective. In five games, Mississippi State has allowed only 15 rushes of 10 yards or more and 19 passes of 20 or more.
Alabama will undoubtedly try and impose its will in the running game early in effort to set the tone and set up the play action game that has been quite successful for the Tide thus far. It is highly likely that Arnett will call this one conservatively in effort to keep their struggling offense out of a shootout. Bryce Young and company will need to be patient and execute, and the points should come.