Mississippi State Three Keys: Alabama

Three-keys-Mississippi State

The Mississippi State Bulldogs got their “non-rest off week” against Louisiana Tech, cruising to an easy win. Maybe that process of scoring with great regularity will give the Bulldogs confidence and rhythm heading into their next game.

By Matt Zemek

 

To put it mildly, their latest opponent will be slightly better than Louisiana Tech.

Alabama’s defense was viewed to have been one of the weaker units Nick Saban had fielded since he came to Tuscaloosa. The difference-maker on this team is quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. He has transformed how Alabama plays. In the shadow of Tua, the Tide’s defense didn’t always flourish. It allowed 31 points to Arkansas and was at times exposed by Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond. Bama gave up garbage touchdowns to Tennessee, which did need to be kept in context (they were only cosmetic scores), but still revealed a defense which was less than fully airtight.

When Alabama came to Baton Rouge to play LSU this past weekend, it was reasonable to think that the game would be close not just because LSU’s defense could provide more of a challenge for Tua, but because Bama’s defense would allow a few scores to the Tigers.

Alabama promptly pitched a shutout and reinforced its chops on that side of the line of scrimmage.

Mississippi State has to beat Tua on Saturday, but it also has to beat a defense which is feeling very good about itself.

1 – PROCESSING THE GAME

The Louisiana Tech game was a glorified scrimmage, and to that extent, it means nothing relative to the challenge posed by Alabama on Saturday. However, did Nick Fitzgerald see things against Louisiana Tech which can now enable him to see the game and process his reads more clearly? Can Fitzgerald improve in his understanding of Joe Moorhead’s offense to the point that he can make better pre-snap adjustments and gain more clarity about where to throw the ball on various plays? If Fitzgerald can get better at processing the game, the Louisiana Tech game can become even more meaningful within the course of the 2018 season… and MSU just might have a chance to at least make this game interesting in the second half.

2 – FOURTH-RIGHT CONFIDENCE

This is a game in which Moorhead has to devise several deluxe plays, the kinds of plays a coaching staff uses for 2-point conversions. Mississippi State must use those plays on fourth downs, which will emerge on several occasions in this contest. MSU has nothing to lose in this game. It should not approach Alabama with caution. Moorhead and everyone else on that sideline have to know that they must make a lot of above-average plays in high-risk moments to have any remote chance of keeping this game close. Going for broke and using his best plays is the ONLY approach for Moorhead. It shouldn’t even be a debate or choice.

3 – RED ZONE – IF POSSIBLE

Maybe Tua will throw a bunch of 35-yard touchdown passes, meaning Bama won’t have to initiate many plays inside the red zone. If Bama does get inside the 20, Mississippi State – as it did against LSU – has to find ways to limit the opposition to three points. That creates a possible path to a close game in the fourth quarter.

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