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Alabama vs Mississippi State Point Spread Pick

MSU Bulldogs() @ Alabama Crimson Tide()

  • Where: Bryant-Denny Stadium . Tuscaloosa, AL
  • When: November 10, 2018 6:30 pm EST

Saturday’s match-up in Tuscaloosa will feature an enticing battle between 1 of the country’s 2 most dynamic offenses (only Clemson goes in the same breath for now…sorry Notre Dame fans) vs an outstanding front-7 and defensive backfield. The Alabama Crimson Tide offense averages an FBS-leading 51.3 points per game while the MSU Bulldog defense is allowing a 2nd-best 12.3 points per game. Mississippi State has only given up 9 touchdowns on the season.

Don’t expect the ‘Bama offense to get rattled. Tagovailoa has completed 68.0% of his passes while throwing for 27 touchdowns and only 1 interception in 2018. That’s without finishing most of the games, and even while sitting down for occasional 1st-half drives to help keep backup Jalen Hurts warm.

The Crimson Tide are so good at run blocking and have so many big, fast running backs that the team’s rushing stats are oddly slanted with some of the role players on top. There’s simply no need to hand Damien Harris the rock 20+ times in a blow-out win, though he did carry 19 times for 107 yards and a score in Alabama’s beat-down of LSU.

The Bulldogs will counter the Heisman trophy hopeful with arguably the most destructive pair of D-linemen in the country. Montez Sweat is 4th in the nation with 9.5 total sacks. Jeffery Simmons has singlehandedly intimidated opposing backfields and has double-digit tackles for loss.

But the LSU-Alabama game showed that the Crimson Tide will always find ways to score if the opponent cannot control the ball or flip the field. Relying on Sweat or Simmons to cover the spread with a dominant performance is fool’s good.

Unless someone’s offense can surprise the Tide early-on and get out to a lead, Saban’s squad can afford to be patient, neutralizing opposing pass rushers by running right at them. A punt is a positive play for Saturday’s hosts.

Those dynamics have helped lead Las Vegas to offer another eye-popping spread on the #1 team in the country.

 

For the Bulldogs to be competitive against the Tide, a quick start out of the gate is imperative.

The ability of Alabama’s top ranked high-powered offense to produce explosive plays has put opponents away before the 1st half (or sometimes first quarter) is completed. In Alabama’s semi-competitive SEC games against Texas A&M and Missouri, the opposing defenses limited big play opportunities.

Missouri kept the Tide out of the end zone in 3 of their first 4 drives by forcing a fumble and holding 2 drives to field goals. The Tigers trailed 13-10 after the 1st quarter as Mizzou was able to pass the ball on 1st and 2nd down with moderate success.

The equalizer for the Bulldogs against the Tide defense could be the threat of Fitzgerald’s legs. Fitzgerald is the all-time leading SEC rusher from the QB position and he leads the team with 839 yards and 9 touchdowns. Look for Fitzgerald to run a heavy dose of read-option plays against the Tide.

Alabama has been vulnerable to giving up chunks of yards to dual-threat quarterbacks, but only struggles against those who can run and pass at an NFL level such as Deshaun Watson.

But Fitzgerald has had success running the ball against the Tide defense, as seen in last season’s nail-biter in Starkville. Fitzgerald ran for 66 yards as the Cowbells produced 172 yards on the ground. The  Tide wound up on the ropes as the underdog Bulldogs held a 24-17 lead in the 4th quarter, but clutch play by Hurts lifted the Tide to a 31-24 comeback victory.

Saban’s brilliant tactics against the read-option have helped rack up SEC and national titles for the Tide. Put simply, the coach asks his unblocked DE to “sit” and wait in the zone, slow-playing the “double” option until a RB-give or a QB keeper can be identified. The player is then able to run to the ball once the ball-carrier is headed upfield…or more often headed sideways.

But there’s always an antidote to everything. In my opinion, teams are playing right into Saban’s hands when they hand it to the tailback on 1st down, hoping to get some type of positive yards. QBs must hold the ball as long as possible on option plays, and take off quickly around end whenever there’s a hint of an opening.

Play-action passes out of the spread-option look should be called on 1st down, not 3rd down, since the weakness of Alabama’s sit-and-read style is that it gives the OL a little bit of an edge in pass-blocking. That hasn’t mattered in 2018-19 so far because opposing QBs are always in 3rd down and long, a down-and-distance at which the Tide can forget about the run and tee off.

In short, cautious play-calling and QB play just don’t do. Middle-of-the-road play-calling equals an automatic loss. To compete with the Crimson Tide defense, a signal-caller and his supporting cast must play wide-open for 4 quarters and let the chips fall where they may.

Fitzgerald has passed it better as of late, going 14/22 for 241 yards and 2 touchdowns to lead the Bulldogs to a win over Texas A&M and adding 4 touchdown passes in a blow-out of LA Tech.

I’m liking the Over (53.5). MSU should be able to run a little better and even pass a little better than the LSU Tigers did last weekend, while another 3-4 touchdown performance from Tagovailoa may well be backed up with a defensive score by Alabama.

Kurt BoyerThis article was written by Kurt Boyer

A freelance sportswriter from Missouri, Kurt has covered court, gridiron, rink and ring for 10+ years. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.


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