No. 2 Alabama, minus Jaylen Waddle, hosts Mississippi State
Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense has put up some big passing numbers, just not nearly as big as those produced by Nick Saban’s Alabama team.
A few years ago, saying a Saban team is putting up bigger numbers than one coached by Leach would have been unthinkable. But quarterback Mac Jones and the second-ranked Crimson Tide have been prolific offensively while Leach’s first Mississippi State team enters Saturday night’s game at Bryant-Denny Stadium with an uncertain quarterback situation.
“I think they have a lot of weapons on offense,” Tide linebacker Christian Harris said. “They can throw the ball 70 times a game. They have a great offense.”
Alabama (5-0) has been even better offensively then the Bulldogs (1-3), especially at converting all those yards into points. It remains to be seen if Jones and his seemingly unstoppable group of receivers can sustain the huge numbers minus star Jaylen Waddle, who is expected to miss the rest of the season with an ankle injury.
The Tide, which still has dangerous receivers in DeVonta Smith and John Metchie III, ranks third nationally with a 397.8-yard passing average per game. Alabama is also third in scoring at 48.4 points per game.
Mississippi State’s 18.5-point average is a mere 88th, despite the Top-5 passing game (357.5 yards). But Saban, long known for his defensive acumen, knows Leach’s track record with offenses and passing games.
“We’re playing a team that’s going to throw the ball 60-70 times in a game and we’re going to have to play really, really well to keep them from scoring a lot of points, which they’re capable of,” Saban said.
Leach hasn’t tipped his hand on who will start, K.J. Costello or Will Rogers, saying they were “neck and neck” to start the week. Both have thrown more interceptions than touchdowns. Rogers, though, was 15-of-18 passing against Texas A&M and, unlike Costello, didn’t throw a pick.
Statistically, Mississippi State has the better defense, yet another flip flop for Leach and Saban teams. The Bulldogs are allowing 295.5 total yards per game, compared to ’Bama’s 427. But they’re almost even in points per game, Mississippi State allowing 26.8 and Alabama 26.4.
“They play hard, they have some experience on their team and (are) also playing some young guys, too,” Jones said. “But they do have a little bit of a different structure that we have to be really locked in to compared to what we normally see.”
Slade Bolden filled in after Waddle went down on the opening kickoff against Tennessee and had six catches for 94 yards. He hadn’t gotten many chances before that, though. He figures to get the first crack at the job. Freshmen like Javon Baker could get targeted more also.
The Bulldogs are last in the league and 98th overall in turnover margin, thanks largely to a dozen interceptions (10 thrown by Costello, two by Rogers). Alabama is tops in the SEC in that category and 30th nationally.
The Bulldogs lost some players from the program this week, apparently including top running back Kylin Hill. Leach didn’t officially confirm that but says he hears Hill is opting out of the season to prepare for the NFL draft.
He did confirm that receiver Tyrell Shavers and defensive ends Tre Lawson and Jamari Stewart have left his program.
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