Hot Reads: Titles, trophies on the line in Tuscaloosa

Hot Reads: Titles, trophies on the line in Tuscaloosa

Dak Prescott's campaign for Heisman can pick up some more votes if he successfully stumps in Tuscaloosa on Saturday. (Source: MSU Media Relations) Dak Prescott's campaign for Heisman can pick up some more votes if he successfully stumps in Tuscaloosa on Saturday. (Source: MSU Media Relations)
Blake Sims loves playing at home, and his numbers prove it. (Source: Alabama Athletic Communications) Blake Sims loves playing at home, and his numbers prove it. (Source: Alabama Athletic Communications)
Bryant-Denny Stadium can be an intimidating place to play for opponents, but Mississippi State has been one of the best teams on the road this season. (Source: Alabama Athletic Communications) Bryant-Denny Stadium can be an intimidating place to play for opponents, but Mississippi State has been one of the best teams on the road this season. (Source: Alabama Athletic Communications)
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    Courtesy: UGA AthleticsCourtesy: UGA Athletics

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  • Mississippi State/Georgia SEC Tournament opener postponed until Wednesday

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    Source: WikipediaSource: Wikipedia

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    twitter.com/izzouFootballtwitter.com/izzouFootball

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    (Mizzou Twitter)(Mizzou Twitter)
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(RNN) - A little birdie chirped through the window about a relatively important event happening in west Alabama on Saturday, and maybe it's a good idea to talk about it.

But first, let's take a quick look over our shoulders and see if Mizzou-rah is still leading the SEC East.

Yep, still there. Now that we have that out of the way, let's tackle more important issues.

Like elevator etiquette. It's very tough to know when to say hello, how long to hold the door. Is it best to offer words of reassurance when someone mistakenly hits the wrong button and delays everyone's ride by 10 seconds, or just stay silent?

Oh 'em gee, stress! OK, moving on.

SEC vs. SEC

Mississippi State at Alabama

Every season, there is one game that feels like a national championship, or at least gives people an idea who will eventually become the champion.

Someone might as well ship Don King and a heavyweight belt to Tuscaloosa because it's going down this Saturday (Saying "it's going down" might preclude any future employment at Chick-fil-A, but it's a risk worth taking).

Let's break this game down element by element to see who has the advantage.

Offense

Even if T.J. Yeldon had two healthy ankles, and he doesn't, the competition for the better ground game still wouldn't be close. Yeldon and Derrick Henry have combined for 1,240 yards this season, which is pretty good.

Pretty good gets downgraded to "meh" when considering Hail State running back Josh Robinson has nearly that all by himself. And that Dak Prescott kid just has to throw in his 779 rushing yards, like the party's all about him or something.

As a team, the Bulldogs rush for 255 yards per game - nearly 50 more than Alabama. That's five extra first downs that Dan Mullen doesn't have to worry about an interception and that he can use to drain the clock. Remember that tiny stat, because it may make a difference.

But the Crimson Tide has Amari Cooper, whom Hot Reads is respectfully giving the nickname "Sandman." He's whisper quiet, but he'll bury any secondary that falls asleep on him.

There is no question the Alabama offense is better at home - as in 25 more points and 221 more yards per game better. Blake Sims' yards/touchdowns/interceptions splits shoot from 227/6/2 all the way to 277/11/1 when he's in Bryant-Denny. Think he doesn't appreciate playing the No. 1 team in the country in T-Town?

Advantage: Alabama - It's close, but the game may come down to a few well-placed throws because…

Defense

Mississippi State's secondary would have trouble shutting down Uncle Ray's poker foursome plus seven strangers from the airport. Hey, it's not being mean if it's true. The Bulldogs are the only team in the SEC that allows 300 passing yards per game.

Sure, they allow a completion rate of just 52 percent - one of the lowest in the country - but that just means when opponents hit passes, they hit big ones.

The Bulldogs do a good job of stuffing the run, but they don't do it better than Alabama, whose 90 rushing yards allowed per game ranks second in the FBS (technically third, but as Hot Reads said last week, Penn State's schedule draws yawns, and Louisville sneaked ahead of Bama by stuffing Boston College).

The gap narrows when we start talking about third-down passing situations. When it comes time to force a punt, the Bulldogs are every bit as good as the Tide. That has more to do with pressure from the front seven than the guys behind them. Linemen Preston Smith and Chris Jones and linebacker Bernardrick McKinney are the key figures for a unit that leads the SEC in sacks.

Mississippi State has less to worry about on third-and-medium and third-and-long because Sims is clearly attached to his best receiver. Aside from Cooper, DeAndrew White is the only other Tide player with at least 15 catches.

Mississippi State has seven of those guys. Leading receiver De'Runnya Wilson has only caught 22 passes this season, but six of them are touchdowns. Five of those scores have come on, drumroll… third down. That leads the country. The 11 different players with touchdown catches is also tops in the country.

And chew on this - Hail State is among the nation's leaders in yards and points scored on the road.

Advantage: Mississippi State - The Bulldogs can definitely stop Alabama, but they had better not gamble too often. They lead the nation in passes defended, so given the amount of yards they allow, it means they would rather go for the big play than the safe play.

Special Teams

Alabama's kickoff and punt coverage teams are, ummm, something less than good? OK, fine. They stink. We know it, our grandmas know it and Alabama knows it. And the field goal kicking? Let's not mortgage our children's future on young Adam Griffith's leg.

It's a little different story for Mississippi State. Evan Sobiesk seems to have shaken off last year's struggles when he finished the season 1-for-4.

If the defenses stand up, Bulldogs punter Devon Bell and the Tide's J.K. Scott will get a lot of camera time, and they're two of the best in the business.

Mississippi State can render an opponent's return game a non-factor. Considering LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn are already in the rear-view mirror, that's saying something.

Advantage: Mississippi State - And it's really not that close.

Intangibles

Most people think the Bulldogs are whooping up on other teams because their two-deep roster is loaded with seniors. Well, they're right. There are 18 upperclassmen who are either starters or second-stringers suiting up.

Alabama has 13, keeping in mind the quarterback is starting for this year only and he began his career in Tuscaloosa as a running back.

Those who major in SEC Football History know the last SEC West team to beat LSU and Alabama on the road in the same season was, you guessed it, Mississippi State - all the way back in 1957.

The Tide have tradition and passion and heritage and all that good stuff. They're also in the rare position of the lower-ranked team with more pressure because they're the favorite and everyone wants to know why the heck they aren't in the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings. By everyone, we mean Alabama fans.

The Bulldogs have swagger and a historically good season on their side. Besides that, Prescott is gunning for a Heisman. He's got prospects. He's bona fide. What are you?

Advantage: Mississippi State - Anyone who can solicit an Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? reference is golden.

The decision: The people who decided Alabama is an 8-plus point favorite in this game may not have enough football knowledge to fill up a drug sample cup. Granted, even with all the matchups stacked against them, it's a tall order to slip past the Tide on their own turf. However, a Mississippi State victory in Tuscaloosa has never been more likely than now.

Georgia at Auburn

Suppose Georgia's very efficient quarterback exploits that thing Auburn calls a passing defense, and suppose Texas A&M knocks off Missouri.

There will be sadness in Columbia, and there will be enough celebration in Athens to cause a small earthquake.

Just one problem there. If Mizzou loses its spot atop the division, it probably won't happen this weekend. Those Tigers are throwing a stronger defense at the Aggies than the Auburn Tigers.

That means the Bulldogs will be forced to hope for Mizzou's fall at the hands of Tennessee or Arkansas. Have fun with that.

Hutson Mason doesn't throw a lot, but when he does he makes it hurt. His 69 percent completion percentage is fifth in the FBS, and he has only thrown three interceptions. A lot of that has to do with Todd Gurley, who was still leading the SEC in rushing a few weeks after his four-game suspension began. He's back, and Nick Chubb achieved full-grown man status in his absence.

And has it escaped everyone's attention that Georgia's defense is allowing a very respectable 338 yards per game? That's the kind of football that wins championships - of the conference and national varieties.

Don't laugh. A lot of teams ahead of Georgia in the playoff rankings are standing on quicksand.

There's life outside the SEC?

TCU jumped over a certain crimson-bearing squad who we won't mention and took fourth in the CFP rankings. So, beating Kansas State is more valuable than beating LSU in Death Valley? Mmkay.

Clearly, the committee cares about margin of victory over quality opponents. Using that logic, the Horned Frogs better mercilessly bludgeon Kansas and Iowa State, and they better not struggle against Texas.

Otherwise, they can kiss that spot goodbye. By the way, why are we not talking about Ohio State as a contender?

Calm down, Georgia fans

For reasons mentioned above. The Bulldogs are just playing with you. It's a test, see?

This is all a way to create drama and add more layers to the plot of that made-for-streaming documentary already in the works.

What, you thought your 'Dawgs were going to bounce right back from that fall in South Carolina, play up to their talent and then run the table the rest of the way?

Silly fans, you.

Stat of the week

32.6 - South Carolina may have flushed this once-promising season down the drain, but it has done so flamboyantly. The Gamecocks have scored an average of 32.6 points in their five losses. The only other FBS teams to average at least 30 points in five or more losses are North Carolina, Washington State, Western Kentucky and Old Dominion.

Copyright 2014 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.

  • Which team is more likely to lose at home this weekend?

  • Thank you for participating in our poll. Here are the results so far:

    Alabama (vs. Miss. State)
    31%
    41 votes
    Arkansas (vs. LSU)
    28%
    37 votes
    Florida (vs. South Carolina)
    10%
    14 votes
    Georgia (vs. Auburn)
    12%
    16 votes
    Tennessee (vs. Kentucky)
    3%
    4 votes
    Texas A&M (vs. Missouri)
    16%
    22 votes
  • SEC FootballSEC CoverageMore>>

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