Bulldogs Strong Where It Counts

Almost every week this season, Alabama has had a statistical advantage against its Southeastern Conference competition. That changes a little bit this week and will change a lot week after next when the Tide hosts Auburn.

Alabama hosts Mississippi State this week and these aren't the Bulldogs that have been known to the Crimson Tide in most seasons. Coach Dan Mullen has Mississippi State on a six-game winning streak and playing very well.

Alabama and Mississippi State, both 7-2 overall, will meet at 6:15 p.m. CST Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa. ESPN2 will televise the game. Alabama is 4-2 and MSU 3-2 in SEC games. The Tide is ranked 11th in the nation, Mississippi State 17th.

A statistical comparison is not necessarily a valid barometer of how the teams will play against one another. One team could have built its statistics against weaker opposition. But by the 10th game of the season, there is some basis for statistical analysis.

The scoreboard is the ultimate judge. In scoring offense, Alabama ranks fifth in the SEC and 31st in the nation at 32.8 points per game, while Mississippi State is ninth in the league and 57th nationally at 28.1 points per game. The Crimson Tide is first in the conference and fifth in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 13.8 points per game. The Bulldogs aren't far behind, third in the conference and ninth nationally, giving up 17 points per game.

A coaching mantra is to be able to run the ball and to stop the run. Mississippi State is doing both better than Bama. The Bulldogs are third in the league and 14th in the nation in rushing, 218.7 yards per game, while Bama is fifth in the league and 34th nationally, 177.4 yards per game. Defensively against the run, State is fourth inthe league and 20th in the nation, giving up 115.2, while the Tide is seventh in the SEC and 33rd nationally, 125.8.

In passing offense, Alabama is third in the conference and 36th nationally at 250.4 yards per game, while the Bulldogs are 10th in the conference and 101st in the nation at 164.6. Bama is fifth in the league and 18th in the nation in pass defense, allowing 181.3 yards per game. Mississippi State is seventh in the league, 71st nationally, allowing 221.6. In efficiency, Alabama is third in the league and 10th in the nation on offense, the Bulldogs ninth in the SEC and 69th in the nation. Defensive efficiency shows the Tide first in the SEC and fifth in the nation, the MSU fifth in the conference and 31st nationally.

In total offense, Alabama gets 427.9 yards per game, third in the SEC and 27th in the nation, and State is eighth in the conference and 60th nationally, 383.2. Defensively, Bama is fourth in the SEC and 17th in the nation, allowing 307.1, and the Bulldogs are sixth in the league, 34th nationally, giving up 336.8.

Three areas considered meaningful statistically by coaches are turnover margin, third down performance, and Red Zone efficiency.

Alabama and Mississippi State are even in turnover margin, leading the SEC at plus seven, which is 15th in the nation. Alabama has 17 takeaways (two fumble recoveries, 15 pass interceptions) and 10 turnovers (six lost fumbles, four interceptions). State has 19 takeaways (10 fumble recoveries, nine interceptions) and 12 turnovers (three lost fumbles, nine interceptions).

On third down conversions, Mississippi State is third in the SEC with 58 successes in 125 attempts, 46.4 per cent. Alabama is right behind in fourth with 48 successful conversions in 104 third down opportunities, 46.2 per cent. On defense, Alabama is second in the conference, allowing 32.8 per cent (43-131) and State is tied for fourth (51-135 for 37.8 per cent).

In Red Zone offense, Alabama is sioxth with 32 scores (24 touchdowns, 8-10 field goals) in 38 trips inside the opponent 20-yard line for 84.2 per cent. State is tied for ninth on 26-34 (21 touchdowns, 5-9 field goals) for 76.5 per cent. Defensively, Alabama leads the league, allowing only 68 per cent success. Opponents have had 25 trips inside the 20 and scored 17 times (eight touchdowns, 9-9 field goals). Mississippi State is third, allowing 20-27 for 74.1 per cent on 12 touchdowns and 8-11 field goals.

Alabama may be without Trent Richardson, who ranks second this week in individual statistics in All-Purpose Yardage. Richardson banged his knee last week against LSU and was questionable for this week's game. Bama safety Robert Lester continues to be number one in the SEC in interceptions with five. Mississippi State tailback Vick Ballard is tied for the league lead in scoring with 13 touchdowns for 78 points.

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