Why Mississippi State can and can’t beat Alabama football

Mississippi State in 2021 took the brunt of an Alabama football team that refused to lose in back-to-back weeks.

Fresh off the loss to Texas A&M at College Station, the Crimson Tide stomped the Bulldogs at Starkville 49-9.

Much of the team that took the field that day will be back for the Bulldogs, so maybe it turns into another rout for Alabama. Or maybe, the year’s experience will give Mike Leach’s veteran squad a boost and give the Crimson Tide a hassle in Tuscaloosa.

Throughout the summer, The Tuscaloosa News is looking at each Alabama opponent that has a shot, even if it’s slim, to defeat the Crimson Tide. Sorry Vanderbilt.

Next up are the Bulldogs, who will face the Crimson Tide on Oct. 22 at Bryant Denny Stadium. Here’s what Mississippi State does and doesn’t have going for it against Alabama.

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Why Mississippi State can win

Will Rogers has the potential to break out

Rogers had his worst game of 2021 against Alabama.

The quarterback threw three interceptions, two of which came in the first quarter. Jordan Battle returned one for a touchdown. Rogers finished with a passer rating of 98.5, his only passer rating to dip below 100. And remember, he sprained his AC joint in the game.

Otherwise, he had a good sophomore season. Against SEC West opponents such as Auburn, Arkansas, Texas A&M and LSU, Rogers threw for a combined 16 touchdowns. He finished the third season in the nation with 4,739 passing yards and seventh in passing touchdowns (36).

If he continues to progress, Rogers could be in line for a strong junior season. If he plays mistake-free football this time, he could be a problem for Alabama.

Experienced defensive front

Alabama has questions to be answered on its offensive line, and if it doesn’t perform well, Mississippi State’s front seven could take advantage.

Most of the group from 2021 is back. The majority of the two-deep on the defensive line returns plus the addition of upperclassmen Jordan Davis, who missed 2021 with a torn ACL.

There also are three experienced linebackers in Jett Johnson, Nathaniel Watson and Tyrus Wheat, who led the team with 7.5 sacks.

Experience doesn’t necessarily equate to success, but it doesn’t hurt.

Why Mississippi State can’t win

Uncertainty at tackle spots

This is one position at which a team wants to be strong when facing Alabama.

The Crimson Tide’s best group is arguably outside linebacker with Will Anderson Jr., Dallas Turner and Chris Braswell.

Mississippi State has to replace both of its tackles. Left tackle Charles Cross was selected ninth overall in the NFL draft while right tackle Scott Lashley completed his eligibility.

Anderson could have another field day after he sacked Rogers four times in 2021.

Cornerback Martin Emerson is gone, but might not have mattered anyway

Emerson had been a three-year starter for the Bulldogs and their best corner. He was a member of Pro Football Focus All-SEC third team in 2021 before the Browns drafted him.

How Mississippi State replaces him will be key for the pass defense to succeed, but even with Emerson in the lineup, Bryce Young scorched the secondary for 348 yards and four touchdowns.

Emerson gave up five receptions for 112 yards and one touchdown in the game last year, per PFF. Emmanuel Forbes, who is back and expected to fill one starting cornerback spot, gave up four receptions for 74 yards and one touchdown.

It might not matter who Mississippi State has in coverage. Young could have another big day.

Nick Kelly covers Alabama football and men’s basketball for The Tuscaloosa News, part of the USA TODAY Network. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter: @_NickKelly

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