Top-ranked Alabama made a statement with a 29-0 shutout win over LSU last week. The Crimson Tide will face another challenge Saturday when No. 16 Mississippi State comes to Bryant-Denny Stadium. Last year the Bulldogs nearly upset Alabama in Starkville. Ben Stansell caught up with Hunter Cloud, The Reflector’s sports editor, to gain insight into the matchup.
Coach Joe Moorhead inherited a veteran team stocked with talented players. Has he lived up to the expectations Mississippi State fans had for him coming into the season?
When Coach Moorhead came he promised the fans an SEC championship, and a team that would play to a championship standard. So I believe the fans had really high expectations of maybe competing for a national championship. I certainly thought at worst Mississippi State would have gone 10-2, however the offense struggled against LSU and Florida, and the team committed to[o] many penalties and shot itself in the foot against Kentucky, so while the team’s record did not live up to expectations, I believe the program and culture Moorhead has brought has certainly lived up to expectations.
Alabama’s Quinnen Williams has emerged as one of the premier defensive linemen in the country. How do you think Elgton Jenkins, Mississippi State’s well-regarded center, will fare against him?
Elgton Jenkins is a really good lineman, I will admit I have not been able to watch much football outside of State games and whatever else I’m able to catch before and after the game I cover. I will say that I think it will be a good test, Williams has a lot of speed and power, and the defensive line of the Tide, will certainly pose problems, but I think Jenkins will have a good battle. It is more of the guards who have kind of dropped the ball on blocking this season, so I’m excited to see that matchup between Jenkins and Williams.
Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald has had a turbulent season, with productive and challenging stretches. Do you think he will find success against Alabama’s defense?
I think if Fitzgerald has done what he has done the past two games in regard to his approach of just feeling and reacting to the game instead of overthinking it I think he can have a great game just like he did last year. He will need to find success through the air though if he wants to have success, [Fitzgerald] is most dangerous when he can throw and run the ball well. He has looked better the past two games, and is really starting to look like the Nick Fitzgerald of his junior year before the ankle injury. I think it will be a good test to see where he is at because Alabama has one of the best defenses even if their secondary may not be as strong as it has been in the past.
Jeffery Simmons and Montez Sweat have wreaked opposing offensive lines. How do you expect their battle with Alabama’s front to play out?
I think that not only Jeffery Simmons, and Montez Sweat will have an impact on the game, but so will Erroll Thompson, a linebacker, he makes a lot of big plays and can stop both the run and pass. This defense is tough and it starts with Simmons and Sweat, so I think the battle will be a good one in the trenches, and if Simmons and Sweat can get to Tua Tagovailoa and put hits on him, it will increase their ability to keep State in the game, and who knows maybe even get the team a win.
How do you anticipate Mississippi State to try slowing down Tua Tagovailoa and Alabama’s offense?
I think the first thing that State will do for sure is stop the run, and also make sure they do not give up chunk plays. They had a lot of that last year in their close loss in Starkville, so if they can limit the chunk plays. I think they will slow down the Alabama offense, it is just so hard because Tua has such a good arm and vision.
What would it take for Mississippi State to pull off the upset?
I think for Mississippi State to pull of the upset they will have to give up less than ten points, and score more than ten points. The defense needs to make sure that they hold strong and not give up chunk plays, the sooner they can get off the field the better off they will be. I also think on the flip side of that, if MSU’s offense can pass the ball effectively they can open up the running game, which should increase their chances of scoring. Punting will also be important, the longer the field Bama has to drive, the more comfortable the defense will be because they are very much a bend but not break style.
What is your score prediction, and how did you formulate it?
I think a final score is going to be either 24-21 or 17-14, I think this will be a game where the defenses really slug it out. I do not think State will win, but I also think they have a chance. If they do win it will be on a last second field goal, if they lose it is because the offense turned the ball over giving Alabama a short field. I just think State will have to play a near perfect game to win, however I think it is more likely that Alabama wins the game. I just think it will be close thanks to the two defenses.
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