Mississippi State football will play what could be its biggest game of the season tomorrow in the “Battle for Highway 82” against the Alabama Crimson Tide. The Bulldogs are coming off a 31-13 victory from last Thursday’s game against the Missouri Tigers. Alabama is coming off its biggest win of the year as they handed Louisiana State Univeristy its first loss of the season.
While considered by many to be a rivalry game, it has been a lopsided affair as of late. Alabama leads the series with 77 wins compared to MSU’s 18 wins. Three games in the Alabama-MSU series ended in ties. The most memorable moment in this rivalry happened in 1980, when MSU upset then No. 1 Alabama team by a score of 6-3. The loss broke a 28-game win streak for the Crimson Tide.
Many football fans believe Alabama is not the immortal team they were five years ago. They have proven their mortality this year already with a loss at home to Ole Miss.
Regardless, the Tide still holds the No. 3 defense in the country, giving up 265 yards a game and only allowing 16.3 points a game. On offense, there is an imbalance as they are a much stronger rushing than passing team. Alabama ranks 65th in the country with 227.9 passing yards a game and 36th in the country in rushing yards per game with 195.3 a game.
On defense, a lot of pressure will be on the MSU front seven to stop runing back Derrick Henry. Henry at 6’3, 242 pounds, is considered by many to be a “physical freak of nature.” As a Heisman frontrunner, he has 1254 yards this season, 17 touchdowns and is averaging 5.8 yards a carry.
“Alabama’s whole mantra has not changed. They are going to do the same stuff and just keep running the ball, but we are just going to have to tackle him,” defensive end A.J. Jefferson said on Derrick Henry.
The Bulldog defense is 48th in the country, giving up 369 yards a game and 11th in the country in points given up a game allowing just 17.2 points. MSU has not given up a single touchdown in the fourth quarter this season.
The MSU defense and team as a whole will play with a lot of emotion. True freshman defensive end Keith “MJ” Joseph Jr. and his father, former Bulldog linebacker, Keith Joseph Sr. died in a tragic car accident. MSU will wear a MJ decal on their helmets to honor the Josephs.
“I don’t know that you bounce back. What I do know is that football for the team and for all of us, it provides a get-away and provides a distraction,” Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz said on the team’s response. Dak Prescott must have one of the best games of his career in order for the Bulldogs to emerge victorious against Alabama. The senior quarterback made history against Missouri, passing 10,000 career yards and notching his 100th career touchdown. However, Dak played his worst game of the year in the Tide’s 25-20 victory over MSU in Tuscaloosa last year. He threw three interceptions, with some of those turnovers coming while in scoring position.
“Every loss sticks with you. You’re going to think about it. Going into this game, we can’t have turnovers,” Dak Prescott said.
Dak cannot do it alone though. He will have to rely heavily on junior wide receiver De’Runnya “Bear” Wilson. Wilson ranks second in the SEC with eight touchdown receptions. He will likely be matched up with the Crimson Tide’s best corner, Cryus Jones, for most of the night. The matchup could prove to be an advantage Wilson could exploit as Jones is 5’10 and easily dwarfed when compared to Wilson’s 6’5 frame.
“I approach every game knowing that I have to make the play for the offense. Our coach prepares every receiver to make the play out there,” Bear Wilson said. “It is just up to us to go out there when our number is called and make the play.”
The Battle for Higway 82 will be at 2:30 p.m. tomorrow and will broadcast on CBS. Fans will have an opportunity to get in the action early as SEC Nation will be in the Junction broadcasting live on the SEC Network at 9 a.m.