AARON SONES PREVIEWS ALABAMA

[Premium article] Aaron Sones previews the Mississippi State vs. Alabama football game.

MISS STATE (2-5, 1-4) @ ALABAMA (3-5, 2-4)

Television: JP Sports (Dave Neal, Dave Rowe, Charles Davis)
The Series: Bama leads, 66-16-3; State has won 4-of-last-5
Last Meeting: MSU, 29-7, (Nov. 11, 2000, in Starkville)

This game features two teams that have pretty much gone in the same direction, as a whole, this season. State hopes to knock of the Tide, and gain momentum as they start the stretch run of the season, while Bama hopes to stop a three-game slide. Alabama struggled mightily defensively last week at home against LSU. If State can execute a strong passing game, along with balanced running from Dicenzo Miller, they have more than a shot at knocking off the Tide. Alabama will counter with the conference's strongest running attack, aided by the option. For State to win, they have to stop the option and dominate defensively. Another key is keeping it close until the fourth quarter. Bama has shown a tendency for folding late in games (Ole Miss, Tennessee, South Carolina).

ALABAMA'S SCHEDULE
9.1 UCLA L 17-20
9.8 @ Vanderbilt W 12-9
9.22 ARKANSAS W 31-10
9.29 @ South Carolina L 36-37
10.6 TEXAS-EL PASO W 56-7
10.13 @ Ole Miss L 24-27
10.20 TENNESSEE L 24-35
11.3 LSU L 21-35
11.10 MISS STATE 11:37
11.17 @ Auburn 2:30
12.1 SOUTHERN MISS 6:00

BAMA'S COACH
DENNIS FRANCHIONE
141-70-2 (19th season)
3-5 (1st season at Alabama)

1981-82 Southwestern (Kans.) College (14-2-2)
1985-89 Pittsburg (Kans.) State (53-6)
1990-91 Southwest Texas State (13-9)
1992-97 New Mexico (33-36)
1998-00 TCU (25-10)
2001- Alabama (3-5)

BAMA'S OFFENSE

Bama leads the SEC in rushing offense, with a 214 yards-per-game average. They run the option often, especially when Tyler Watts is in there. Last week, Andrew Zow saw playing time, but expect Watts to see most of the action against the Dogs. Alabama produced 516 total yards against South Carolina, 588 against UTEP, 363 against Ole Miss and 383 against LSU. Alabama ranks just 10th in the conference in passing, with 191 yards per game. The key to stopping Alabama is to stop the run, and force them to throw. They've given up 16 sacks, so it's possible to get to the quarterback. The Tide features a solid offensive line, talented and explosive receivers and a couple of running backs that are quick and powerful.

WHO'S HOT: Alabama in the red zone. The Tide leads the SEC in red zone offense, converting 93.5 percent of the time they get inside the 20 (29-of-31). They have scored 17 TDs and kicked 12 field goals.

WHO'S NOT: Alabama in the fourth quarter. The Tide has held the lead going into the fourth quarter in three of its five losses. They led South Carolina, 36-24, with seven minutes to play, but lost 37-36. They led Ole Miss, 24-14, with six minutes to go, only to lose, 27-24. Bama lost a 35-24 decision to Tennessee after leading 24-21 heading into the final stanza.

THE STATS:            MSU BAMA
Total Offense            322.0 405.2
    Rushing Yards      124.9 214.1
    Passing Yards        197.1 191.1
Points Scored            12.0 27.6
First Downs            17.6 18.5
3rd Down Conversions .375 .396

A new feature: I will give an advantage to either Mississippi State or the opponent, for every position. I will award either team with the advantage by a certain number of points (like a point-spread), up to 10. For example, if MSU has the advantage by 1 point, it is a slight edge. If it is by 10, it is a commanding edge.

UK'S OFFENSIVE BACKFIELD

QB 14 TYLER WATTS (6-3.217.JR)
QB 5 ANDREW ZOW (6-3.220.SR)

Alabama has seen plenty of productivity this season from Watts, who ignited the Tide starting with the South Carolina game with his ability to run with the football. Zow is the better passer, and probably a better athlete, but as Jackie Sherrill would say, Watts is a "quarterback playing quarterback" while Zow is an "athlete playing quarterback". Watts is probably the most dangerous runner for Alabama, and Wright, Banks, Morgan and company will have to step up from the secondary and defend the option. This could open up things for Alabama through the air. Compared to MSU's two quarterbacks, Alabama's two have produced far more than State's so far this season.

ADVANTAGE: ALABAMA BY 3

TB 29 AHMAAD GALLOWAY (6-1.225.JR)
TB 34 SANTONIO BEARD (6-0.215.SO)
FB 49 DONNIE LOWE (6-2.249.SO)

Galloway is seventh in the SEC in rushing, with nearly 70 yards per game. He'll get his yards, but likely won't be the ultimate factor in victory over the Bulldogs. Beard had 141 yards against Tennessee, and can be dangerous. With Dicenzo Miller coming back for State, and the fact that Alabama will rely on Watts to mix-up the option and the pass, the slight advantage at this position goes to the Bulldogs.

ADVANTAGE: STATE BY 2

BAMA'S RECEIVERS

WR 2 ANTONIO CARTER (5-9.191.JR)
WR 15 FREDDIE MILLONS (5-11.187.SR)
WR 80 JASON MCADDLEY (6-2.207.SR)
WR 7 SAM COLLINS (6-1.181.JR)
WR 84 TRIANDOS LUKE (6-0.188.SO)
TE 82 TERRY JONES, JR. (6-4.267.SR)

Alabama has some of the most athletic receivers in the SEC. The Bulldogs would love to have Millons, a Starkville native who has typically had his best games against them. McAddley ate State's lunch in 1999, and hauled in a 4th quarter touchdown pass that sealed the deal. State's secondary will have their hands full trying to cover this unit as well as keeping an eye on the option. It won't be easy, but avoiding the big play will be a big key in winning this game.

ADVANTAGE: ALABAMA BY 5

BAMA'S OFFENSIVE LINE

QT 70 WESLEY BRITT (6-8.313.FR)
QG 78 JUSTIN SMILEY (6-3.295.FR)
C 58 ALONZO EPHRAIM (6-4.292.JR)
SG 71 MARICO PORTIS (6-3.302.JR)
ST 51 EVAN MATHIS (6-5.281.FR)

A very talented group that has been hurt by injuries. Notice three freshmen starting. This group has bent but not broken over the course of the season. Credit them with paving the way for Watts to pick up his yardage.

ADVANTAGE: EVEN

BAMA'S DEFENSE

Alabama's defense has been a major disappointment this season, primarily the secondary. Bama ranks eight in the conference in total defense, 5th in rushing defense and 8th in passing defense. The Tide has been hurt late in games because of a lack of depth and an inability to stop the opposing teams' air attacks. Look at the score between the third and fourth quarter. If State can keep it close until then, they have a shot, especially if Fant/Madkin can connect with the Bulldog receivers.

WHO'S HOT: Middle linebacker Saleem Rasheed leads the team in tackles (82) and has two sacks.

WHO'S NOT: Alabama's secondary. LSU absolutely torched them last week.

BAMA'S DEFENSIVE LINE

LDE 90 NAUTYN MCKAY-LOESCHER (6-4.240.SO)
LDT 96 JARRET JOHNSON (6-4.274.JR)
NT 55 KENNY KING (6-5.277.JR)
RDE 56 TODD BATES (6-4.230.FR)

Going into the season, this was supposed to be the strong point of Alabama's team. While they have played pretty well throughout the year, they have not yet dominated like they were expected to. Teams have run the football well at times against them. Injuries have played a role, as freshman Todd Bates was inserted in the RDE position last week against LSU. The Bulldogs showed a little bite last week against Kentucky, so they have a little momentum and get just a slight edge.

ADVANTAGE: STATE BY 1

BAMA'S


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