The Mississippi State Bulldogs have the most unenviable task in college football heading into Week 12. Not only do they have to face the Alabama Crimson Tide, a hard-enough task as it is; they have to face Alabama at a time when the Tide are coming off a loss AND need to rack up style points to stay in the College Football Playoff race.
By Matt Zemek
Alabama has to look great in the final few weeks of the season to impress the committee. Mississippi State has to brace for the full fury of a Nick Saban team which just gave up 46 points to LSU on home turf. What can the Bulldogs and Joe Moorhead possibly do? They have to give it the old college try and place emphasis on these three components of competition:
1 – Shoot your shot
Mississippi State might not be a team with an electric offense or a devastating downfield passing game, but the Bulldogs have to compete to win. There is no sense playing a game and not trying to do the kinds of things which at least allow for the possibility of triumph. Mississippi State can’t nibble on the corners or timidly probe Alabama’s defense. The Bulldogs need to take shots downfield and do so repeatedly. This is a baseball-like concept in that much as a legendary hitter will still make an out two out of every three times at bat, Mississippi State doesn’t have to hit a long bomb three out of three times. If it hits a long ball one out of every three tries, that’s pretty good. Volume of attempts is MSU’s friend.
Will this invite interceptions? Yes. Could this result in a very ugly loss? Yes. No one would dispute this. Yet, when you’re a huge underdog playing a pissed-off opponent, what else are you supposed to do? Mississippi State could get blown out playing conservatively. One might as well risk a blowout by trying to play aggressively. The payoff is a lot bigger. There is no reward for being cautious or unimaginative in this game.
Coaches so often play games so that they won’t lose by too many points. Coaches try to increase the chances they will lose by 20 points and minimize the chances they will lose by 40. Yet, that same approach virtually eliminates a chance of winning. Better to try to win and risk losing by 40 than to play risk-free ball and lose by 20.
2 – Red zone defense
Mississippi State is going to allow a lot of yards to Alabama. Let’s be clear here. The Tide are way too skilled and have far too much speed at wide receiver for MSU to think it can shut down this defense. Consider the LSU game, when the Bulldogs played as well as they could on defense for one half but were simply not going to smother the Tigers for the full 60. Playing well in the red zone can minimize damage and give MSU the hope of a slight opening in this game, if the offense can hit huge plays.
3 – As few punts as possible
This is a damn the torpedoes kind of game. Fourth and one on your own 25? Go for it. Fourth and three on your own 45? Go for it. Fourth and six on the Bama 40? Go for it, go for it, go for it. Life is too short. Mississippi State should enjoy the freedom which comes with having no expectations. Try everything. It might even work out, at least to the extent that Alabama might feel some pressure at some point down the line.