MSU hopes to salvage season versus Tide

In the midst of a season that has been unpredictably dark for Mississippi State, one must assume that Coach Jackie Sherrill has had this Saturday's match up with the Alabama Crimson Tide circled on his calendar. A Win over Alabama could help the Bulldogs salvage an otherwise dismal season.

Fresh off an embarrassing defensive performance against LSU, the Tide seems to be reeling. In contrast, Mississippi State is coming off just its second victory of the year versus Kentucky (the other came in the season opener against Memphis). And according to Sherrill, if the Alabama running game can be stopped, then his troops have a chance to walk away with their 2nd SEC win of the year.

"They are averaging 214 yards a game (rushing)," Sherrill said. "They run the option very well to put pressure on defenses. As a defense, you have to be very disciplined. The secondary will make most of the tackles because you have to stack the line of scrimmage. It's very important the secondary does make plays and tackles."

As most of the Tide's previous opponents would attest, in order to stop the Alabama running game, a team must stop the option, engineered by quarterback Tyler Watts. Sherrill identified this need as well. "The option is hard to defend if it is run well, and they have been running it very well. They have played in nine games, and their execution of the option has been better every week.

Tide linemen Kindal Moorehead (#54) and Jarrett Johnson (#96) warm up at practice. Sherrill points to the possible return of Moorehead from injury as being key to Bama's chances.

"Tyler Watts is a tough runner. He won't out-run you, but he is intelligent and makes the right decisions. He can make you miss him, and he forces the defender to make decisions."

Although historically Alabama is the team known for its ability to rush the football, Sherrill believes that a solid ground attack will be the key to success for the Bulldog offense, especially with the recent injury troubles that have plagued the Tide defensive front. "We have to run the ball," Sherrill said. "Tennessee at times ran the ball well, and then at times they didn't run the ball well. They did a good job of mixing it up. Alabama has a very good defensive line even though they have some seniors that aren't playing right now."

Speaking of injuries, the Mississippi State squad has also suffered some heavy blows in that department. Included in the list of the infirm are quarterback Wayne Madkin and tailback Dicenzo Miller. Both have been limited all week in practice. Sherrill explained; "We had nine guys that didn't practice yesterday. Some will be out there, but they won't be able to go through all the drills. It's especially hard because four of the five offensive linemen won't be out there. Dicenzo (Miller) and Wayne (Madkin) also won't be out there. Wayne is still being bothered by a sore shoulder and arm he suffered earlier in the season."

For Mississippi State, a win over the Crimson Tide would be a rare ray of light in the abysmal year that they are currently experiencing. An underachieving offense, an unusually porous defense, and a noticeable lack of emotion have given the Bulldogs one of their worst records in years.

Senior quarterback Wayne Madkin's performance has hardly been sterling. The Bulldog running game has been shut down at times, and there have been moments when fans have wondered if this is the same team that fielded the defenses so feared by other SEC squads in recent years.

However, meeting an Alabama team that is still trying to rebound from its share of heartbreaking losses might give the Bulldogs just the chance they need to get back in the hunt for a bowl bid (an unlikely, but possible, scenario).

Even though the match up this season seems to be filled with variables, one thing is certain. Anytime Alabama and Mississippi State meet, no matter the records beside their names, a physical, hard-fought football game is on the horizon.

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