When Alabama Coach Nick Saban was counting off the reasons that the Crimson Tide would have to play very well against Mississippi State on Saturday, near the top of the list was “the quarterback has done a great job for them.”
The quarterback is Dak Prescott, a 6-2, 235-pound junior who has completed over 61 per cent of his 239 passes and averaged over 5.4 yards per carry on each of his 143 runs. As a result, he is second in the SEC in total offense with 3,010 yards, an average of 334.4 yards per game.
Prescott leads a Mississippi State team that is 9-0 on the season and ranked first in the nation. The Bulldogs to to Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday to take on an Alabama team that is 8-1. Kickoff is at 2:30 p.m. CST with CBS televising the game.
Saban knows that dual-threat quarterbacks are more threat that one-dimensional quarterbacks. “I think you have to give the other guys a little bit of credit.” he said.
The obvious problem is that if you play the quarterback as a runner, he is likely to find holes in the defense to hit a pass. Play the pass, and he may get away for long runs.
Saban said, “Do you do what you do or do you do something different so that the quarterback can never run, but then you never get anybody covered?
“It's kind of mixing it up, a little bit like pitching. Hopefully you've got a fastball and you've got some kind of cutter or change-up or something that a quarterback's not going to know exactly what to do, the front does a good job in pass rush lanes.”
He said that last week’s problems with LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings getting away on a couple of scramble runs were “because we didn’t do what we were supposed to do up front. On the last play of the game, he could have ran again because we didn't do what we were supposed to do up front.
“I think what's really critical in games like this is guys want to get sacks so bad and that's why sacks have nothing to do with being successful as a defense to me. It's pushing the pocket and making the quarterback throw in the pocket when you press the pocket up against him so he can't step up and attack the middle of the field or step up and run. We have to do a better job of being very disciplined in what we do up front in terms of how we rush pass rush lanes and how we push the pocket. Not be so worried about, 'I want to sack the quarterback.’
That attitude, Saban said, leads to the rusher losing containment on the quarterback, giving him alleys to scramble down.
This week Alabama has 6-3, 215-pound redshirt freshman Cooper Bateman playing the scout team quarterback role in Bama practices.
Saban said, “Cooper Bateman is very athletic, very fast, probably runs less than a 4.6 and does a really, really good job. He's been the scout team player of the week several times this year. Certainly has done a really good job this week. You have to have someone that can be that type of guy or you really can't prepare your defense for what they're going to see.”
Alabama cornerback Cyrus Jones has to worry first about Prescott as a passer, but recognizes the Mississippi State quarterback as “just an all-around athlete, a big guy who can run and has a great arm. He manages that offense well. It’s going to be a challenge for us as a defense, but I think with our preparation we’ll be ready.”
Jones said that Bateman is effective in that preparation.
“A great look,” Jones said. “He’s a guy who can throw it and run it. He’s athletic. So it gives you a great look at what Dak is going to give us Saturday.”
And how has Bateman done against Jones?
The cornerback said the scout quarterback has tried to put a move on. “We just try to thud him up the best we can. But he’s a good athlete.”