Bulldog Scouting Report – Alabama

The Game: Mississippi State (4-5, 1-4 SEC) is back home after two weeks on the road, and opposite ends of the SEC, to host #1 Alabama (9-0, 6-0). Kickoff is 6:45 with the local pregame broadcast beginning three hours prior, and full MSU Network joining two hours prior.

*Mississippi State is 4-1 at home this year and 1-1 in conference games. The Bulldogs are looking for their first Western Division win. Coach Dan Mullen is 5-19 against West teams in five seasons with State, but 9-4 against Eastern squads.

*State's last win over a ranked opponent was at #22 Florida, also in 2010. In five seasons Mullen's teams are 2-21 against ranked (A.P.) teams, 0-4 this year.

*This is only the sixth time a Bulldog team has played a top-ranked (AP) team since polls have been recognized. But half these matchups have come under Mullen's tenure. State is 1-4 against #1s with the lone win over Alabama in 1980 in Jackson.

*Mullen has 33 wins at Mississippi State, fourth-most by any Bulldog coach. He needs four more victories to tie Emory Bellard (1979-85) for third at 37.

*These Bulldogs have three games left to secure bowl eligibility for a record fourth-straight season. The current streak of 2010-11-12 matches the 1998-99-00 stretch for most consecutive bowl teams.

*Alabama owns a five-win streak in the series begun in 2008. The Bulldogs last won in 2007, at Scott Field, following a 2006 victory in Tuscaloosa.

*Those wins were also the last years State scored more than one touchdown against a Tide team. In the five losses since Bulldogs have totaled 34 points, and only in 2010 did MSU reach double-digits with 10.

*The SEC's nearest neighbors have met annually since 1944 and 97 total times, but only 20 of these games have been played in Starkville. The last neutral-site meeting was in 1989, in Birmingham.

*A nerve issue caused last Saturday has QB Dak Prescott's status this week very much in doubt. Sitting the game out will delay his literal run at MSU history. Prescott has rushed for 722 yards, 18 short of the record for a Bulldog quarterback set by Don Smith in 1986.

The Opponent: Names and faces change each season. The results, and the uniforms for that matter, remain numbingly consistent. So has Alabama's ranking this season as the two-time defending champions were tabbed number-one in August and remain so. Yet this has to be among the best jobs Nick Saban has done in the remarkable run that began in 2009. Half the offensive and defensive lineups needed replacing, most notably at the lines of scrimmage, yet the Crimson Tide has been able to operate the same system with similar results. And for national peers who foresaw, hoped, that a changing of the BCS guard was coming this January, note that unlike the remaining title contenders Alabama is the one which continues obviously improving through the season.

Offense: He probably isn't flashy enough to win the Heisman Trophy and by now he surely couldn't care less. A.J. McCarron will be entirely content to conclude his eerily efficient career with three-straight titles. The difference which ought be recognized this time though is how much more the quarterback's calm play-making matters in 2013 compared to prior seasons. 34-2 as a starter, McCarron owns all program records (touchdowns, yards, wins) worth holding, and his TD-to-turnover rate is best in recorded NCAA annals. Somebody must be getting open for all those throws, and Alabama's route-runners do that. Four receivers have divided, almost literally, the catches with 28-to-23 apiece, all with double-digit average gains and all two to four touchdowns. So no, there's no ‘go to' guy in the bunch, they're all equally able and equally difficult to scheme against. Maybe the Tider who has best reason to feel under-appreciated isn't the passer or catchers, though. Soph RB T.J. Yeldon is so good at what he does as to be taken for granted. Yet his 12 touchdowns and 6.2 average stack up well with the better-known names preceding him into the NFL. He'll be there soon enough himself. It only seemed the entire '12 offensive line was drafted; two of them are back, both preseason all-Americans, and the front has been rebuilt faster than opponents feared. 6-6, 310 junior Cyrus Kouandjio is the passer's security blanket at left tackle, while Anthony Steen leads the ground-game way at right guard. Alabama has been three-and-outed just 17 times all season, while 48 of 98 series have produced touchdowns. And this bunch does the damage immediately, out-scoring foes 224-38 in first halves.

Defense: The best indicator of this regime's priorities is reflected by a depth chart that, unlike the norm, lists the defense first. And why not? Any unit which has allowed five first-half touchdowns through nine games merits top billing. This puts Alabama on track to lead the FBS in scoring defense for a third-straight season which would be a NCAA record. Only Texas A&M, of course, has managed more than two touchdowns against this unit, and just reaching 300 net yards is reason for some offensive satisfaction. It begins, obviously, with owning the ground game, allowing just 95 yards each week and four touchdowns all season. The three-man front might not have the same name recognition as previous years but certainly set the tone; a consistent one with a 6-4 trio averaging close enough to 300 pounds-across. The line can go even bigger and does with alternate DE A'Shawn Robinson bringing 320 into action and scoring a team-best four sacks. It's the linebackers getting attention, none more so weak-side star C.J. Mosely. He's up for no less than seven post-season awards and will win a few of ‘em based on 71 tackles, 7.0 for losses, so far. He both hurries the thrower and breaks up the throws with frightening range. Junior SLB Adrian Hubbard will take home his share of post-season hardware as well, or come back in '14 as the league's leading linebacker. Meanwhile ‘jack' linebacker Denzel Devall creates havoc chasing passers and forcing fumbles. One might wonder what is left for the safeties to do, yet Landon Collins and HaHa Clinton-Dix stay busy with 74 combined tackles and an interception each. CB Cyrus Jones has a pair of picks, and the secondary would surely have more than eight total if passers were able to actually get off a throw in the first place.

Specialists: WR Christion Jones is the SEC leader at 31 yards per kickoff return, and second-best running back punts—with lots of practice obviously--scoring a touchdown in both categories against Virginia Tech. Cody Mandell is booting his punts for over 46 yards, when he gets a chance to kick that is. Much more busy is Cade Foster with 52 kickoffs, 9-of-10 field goals with a 53-yarder, and makes on all 44 of his point-afters.

Bulldog Notebook: The 556 yards of offense compiled last Saturday was the most ever by a Mullen Bulldog team in SEC play. The 41 points tied for second-most in conference action behind only the 45 scored last year on Arkansas.

*This offense's average of 459 yards each game is on pace to smash the 1982 record of 422 yards.

*One bad week sent Mississippi State from having the fewest turnovers in the SEC to 11th in turnover margin. But the Bulldogs picked three Aggie passes and are back up to 7th this week. And State's three fumbles lost this season are second only to Vanderbilt (2) in the league standings.

*Those three picks were the first interceptions by State since the LSU game.

*The Dog defense ranks 4th-best in holding on third downs, but is 12th on fourth downs.

*State has scored 25 touchdowns in 36 red-zone opportunities. However they've allowed opposing touchdowns on 21 of 28 such chances, last in the conference this week.

*State is last in SEC punt returning at 2.4 yards-per.

*MSU is the only conference club to have allowed two safeties this season. Both have come on punting plays.

*The Bulldog offense has netted ten or more yards on 160 snaps, or 23.8% of all offensive chances this season including turnovers, kneel-downs, whatever. In five SEC games the average is just under 20%, 75 of 377.

*And while for two months most of those big plays came before halftime, in the last two SEC games 23 of 37 have been in second halves.

*Last week's 21 points scored in the fourth quarter at A&M were the most in a final period by any Mullen MSU team to-date.

*The largest part of Bulldog points have come with Prescott calling cadence. This week he is 5th among SEC players in scoring average; and third-best in touchdown scoring behind a pair of running backs. Prescott is 7th-best in total offense among all SEC players despite doing alternate duty in most of his games.

*Last year Prescott was 4-of-6 passing with a touchdown in late relief against Alabama, the only points State scored.

*Before the injury Prescott was on a three-game tear, 65-of-103 passing with four touchdowns. And he rushed for a career-best 154 yards at A&M. In the last two games Prescott averaged 7.5 yards each carry.

*Whether a substitute, alternate, or starter, the sophomore has produced 25 touchdowns rushing and passing in his still-short career. And that doesn't include the two touchdowns he has scored as a receiver, both this season. He's also run for a two-point conversion.

*So in two seasons Prescott has accounted for 27 total touchdowns on 393 plays running, throwing, and receiving. That comes out to a touchdown every 14.6 times he has the ball.

*Not counting his two receiving scores, Prescott's 25 career TDs-responsible for are ten away from making the MSU top-ten. And he's almost half-way now to the career record of 52 set by Don Smith (1983-86).

*QB Tyler Russell's interrupted senior season resumed last week as he started at Texas A&M after missing most of the Kentucky game and all of the South Carolina game with an ankle sprain. He was an efficient 8-of-14 passing for a touchdown and no turnovers.

*The scoring pass was Russell's first since the LSU game, following a three-week absence due to concussion. In his limited action Russell is 38-of-57 with three scores and one interception. His 66.7% completions this season is the best of his career in fact.

*Russell is just the fifth Bulldog to throw for 5,000 career yards. His 377 completions are third-most in MSU history, he is the second-most-accurate passer ever to wear the uniform at 58.3%. And, his 40 touchdown passes are most ever by a Bulldog.

*Russell has been responsible for 43 career touchdowns throwing or running, third-most by a Bulldog and three behind Anthony Dixon (46, 2006-09).

*Both of Prescott's touchdown catches were thrown by WR Jameon Lewis (Troy, Kentucky). Last week the junior wideout added a third touchdown toss, this time to WR Joe Morrow. So the former high school quarterback isn't just 3-of-3 completing throws, all have gone for six points.

*For those who track such stuff, Lewis has a ‘quarterback rating' of 665.20. Russell's is 149.49 for context.

*Lewis really is the all-purpose Dog this season. He leads the receiver corps with 39 catches, 505 yards, and four touchdowns.

*He's also rushed for three scores on 13 carries and nets 9.0 yards each attempt, best on the team.

*So Lewis has had a hand now in ten total touchdowns though he gets ‘scoring' credit for just seven of them. Regardless, he is the only NCAA player this season with: 4-plus receiving touchdowns, 3-plus rushing and 3-plus passing scores.

*Lewis and Prescott made SEC history when they both ran, caught, and threw a touchdown (or two) against Troy. It was the first time in conference records a team had two players pull off the touchdown trifecta in the same game. The last time one Dog did so was in 1978, James Jones against Florida State.

*Lewis' great frustration had been in punt returns, with minus-two yards on ten attempts. Then he netted 36 yards on four chances at Texas A&M to get into positive numbers.

*Counting a touchdown kickoff return last season, Lewis is the only active Bulldog to have scored four ways.

*His senior season has been hampered by ankle issues. But RB LaDarius Perkins is finding his late-year stride, scoring twice last Saturday on a rush and a catch.

*Perkins is second in squad rushing now at 433 yards with a pair of scores.

*He's just equaled his '12 receptions total with 19 catches and is a bit ahead in yardage, 178 to 160.

*Despite all his health issues, and his kick return jobs taken-over by others, Perkins is only the third Bulldog to reach 4,000 all-purpose yards. He now has 4,074 and 95 out of tying Walter Packer (193-76) for second place.

*After catching six balls in the previous six games, three of them with no grabs at all, WR De'Runnya Wilson exploded for seven balls and 75 yards at A&M. And two catches went for touchdowns, of 3 and 9 yards and thrown by different quarterbacks.

*WR Robert Johnson is becoming a go-to target in SEC games. Of his 27 catches 19 have been in league play, and 201 yards out of 291. But he is still watching for his first touchdown catch of the campaign.

*R.Johnson and Lewis are the only Dogs with a catch in every game this season. TE Malcolm Johnson's streak stopped at A&M.

*Morrow's catch from Lewis at A&M was his first college touchdown.

*RB Josh Robinson's 51-yard touchdown run Saturday was the longest carry of his sophomore season.

*Once again MLB Benardrick McKinney is leading in team tackles, though it was by default last week as OLB Deontae Skinner missed the A&M game with injury. McKinney now leads 55 to 50 in season stops.

*McKinney's first sacks of the soph season have come in the last two games, both on the SEC road. They went for a combined loss of 32 yards.

*DT P.J. Jones got the first sack of his season at A&M, for a 12-yard loss.

*OLB Matt Wells has the most total stops in the last two SEC games, with ten.

*DT Chris Jones lined up at a new position in November, adding nose tackle to his turns at end and tackle already this freshman season. He leads the defense with 7 quarterback hurries.

*DE Preston Smith extended his team lead in TFLs to 6.5.

*CB Jamerson Love came up with two interceptions Saturday, giving him three for the season. That is tied for 5th-most in the SEC. He joined S Nickoe Whitley as the only Dogs with multiple-pick games this season.

*Whitley pulled in his fourth interception of the senior year last week. That gives him 14 for the career, two short of matching the record shared by former teammate Johnthan Banks (2009-12) and Walt Harris (1992-95) with 16 each.

*Whitley now has 210 career tackles.

*The Bulldog defense is last in SEC sacks with 13 in nine games.

*P Baker Swedenburg has not kicked in two weeks, but still ranks 7th-best in SEC punting average at 43.7 yards.

*New punter KS Devon Bell went from a 47.6-yard average at South Carolina, to 33.8 at A&M. That dropped him to 41.5 for the short season.

*He's been plenty consistent kicking off though with 22 touchbacks out of 50 chances with several end-zone kicks being returned anyway. Only one kickoff has gone out of bounds.

*A week after being promoted to starting placekicker and making his only attempt at S.C., Evan Sobiesk had a 40-yard try blocked by A&M. He is 2-of-3 for the first varsity season. Bell was 5-of-11 this year. State is last in SEC field goals made, not surprisingly.

*In Mullen's five seasons, his defenses have scored 11 defensive touchdowns on either interceptions or fumble returns; and three safeties.

*If the trend holds some Dog will run back a kick of some sort to score before the season is over. Mullen teams have scored on kickoffs once each in 2009, '10, and '12; and twice on punts in 2011.

*State special teams have blocked one field goal (Whitley) and one punt (DT Nelson Adams) this season.

*Senior OG Gabe Jackson has started all 48 games of his Bulldog career, the most ever for a Mullen player. He surpassed Johnthan Banks' 44 starts in 2009-12. And this year only Georgia's Aaron Murray has more active-player starts in the NCAA, at 49.

*Nine true freshmen have played this season: CB Kivon Coman, OG Jamaal Clayborn, CB Tolando Cleveland, DT Chris Jones, WR Fred Ross, TE Artimas Samuel, RB Ashton Shumpert, QB Damian Williams, and WR De'Runnya Wilson.

*True freshmen yet to play are: WR Shelby Christy, OL Kent Flowers, WR B.J. Hammond, LB Dezmond Harris, DB Gabe Myles, OL Jake Thomas, DB Brandon Wells.

*Only two scholarship recruits of 2012 have yet to play in a game; TE Gus Walley (inj), and DT Jordan Washington.

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