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Tide prepares for Mississippi State's Air Raid attack
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Tide prepares for Mississippi State's Air Raid attack

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Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers and the Bulldog offense is expected to be a stern test for the Alabama defense this Saturday.

Coming off an ugly night in College Station, Alabama’s about to see an offense unlike any it’ll face this season.

A year after shutting out Mike Leach’s first Mississippi State team 41-0 last season, Alabama faces the Bulldogs finding the rhythm of Leach’s pass-happy offense coming off a bye weekend.

Where the Crimson Tide has a balance between runs and passes, Mississippi State is the opposite. That creates issues with keeping fresh defensive lineman on the field for a game that figures to see more passes than Alabama has seen in years.

The Bulldogs (3-2) average 57 passes thrown a game while Alabama defenses have seen 27 on average and no more than Miami’s 32. Only two Alabama opponents in the past decade have more than 50 passing attempts when both South Carolina in 2019 and Clemson in the 2016 national title game had 57 each.

The last three MSU games included 67, 62 and 59 passes, respectively. In terms of rushing, it is last nationally in rushing yards per game (56.2) and rushing attempts (93).

“You have to change the way you think,” Nick Saban said. “The old fashioned, gotta stop the run on regular downs and play the passes. You’ve gotta kind of change to, we’ve got to stop the runs but we’ve got to play really good pass defense on every down because a lot of their passes are control game, get the ball out quick, short, gain five, seven, catch and runs so you’ve got to break on the ball and tackle well. It’s a little different mindset that your team has to have and your (defensive) signal caller.”

That makes the ability to rotate lineman and edge pass rushers even more important,

“You’ve got to rush three guys sometimes, you’ve got rush four guys sometimes, you’ve got to rush five guys sometimes,” Saban said. “I think you’ve got to mix it up and try to disguise what you’re doing but there’s no question about the fact that it’s more taxing for a defensive lineman to play against a passing play and exert the kind of effort that you have to as opposed to what you may have to do on a running play.”

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The nature of the passes thrown adds to the equation. These are mostly quick strikes, not much pocket time — just take the snap, turn and fire.

The pass rush numbers speak to that. Despite throwing the fourth most passes nationally (284), Mississippi State has been sacked just 10 times. The 2.0 sacks allowed per game is No. 62.

“It’s a space game, I also think that the defensive lineman have to run more on a lot of their perimeter and short passes because that’s the kind of game it is,” Saban said. “Sometimes when they throw it, it’s nothing more than a quick pitch and everybody needs to be rallying and leveraging the ball.”

Alabama is coming off a night in which Texas A&M quarterback Zach Calzada wasn’t sacked, nor was the Tide credited with a quarterback hurry. Influencing Bulldog passer Will Rogers isn’t an option, Alabama defensive lineman DJ Dale said.

“And if we can’t do that,” he said, “it can be a long day for us as a defense.”

Alabama got to both Mississippi State quarterbacks last season. Rogers, the 2021 starter, replaced K.J. Costello after he left after taking a knee to the head. The two passers combined to throw 48 passes, were sacked twice with eight other QB hurries recorded.

The 48 attempts were the fifth fewest for Mississippi State as Alabama held the visitors to its second-fewest passing yards, 163.

Getting those high passing attempt numbers requires offensive momentum and the Bulldogs went five possessions without a first down to open the game.

Saban said he sees Mississippi State has found more of a groove under Leach’s offense now that they’ve had a year to process the scheme and recruit for it.

The Bulldogs are coming off an open week and a 26-22 win at Texas A&M when Rogers threw for 408 yards on 46 for 59 passing (78 percent) and the first turnover-free game of the season.


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