Tuscaloosa, Ala.- For the first time in both of their long coaching careers, Nick Saban and Mike Leach will face off on Saturday in Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide and the Bulldogs are heading in different directions at the moment, with the Crimson Tide winning their first five games, while Mississippi State has lost three in a row.
The Mike Leach-led Bulldogs began their season with a shootout win over LSU in Tiger Stadium, but since the offense has had a lot of problems moving the football. After scoring 44 points in the opener, Mississippi State has scored 21 offensive points in their past three contests.
This offensive struggle for the team from Starkville is coming at the perfect time for this Alabama defense, who has been improving every week since the debacle in Oxford just three weeks ago. This game on Saturday will still be a test for the Crimson Tide, however, as Leach and company loves to throw the ball downfield, which is the approach Lane Kiffin and the Rebels used to score 48 on the Alabama secondary. This will be a good indication of where the Alabama secondary is at, including potential first-round selection Patrick Surtain II, as well as safeties Jordan Battle and Daniel Wright.
It will be the second full game without playmaker Jaylen Waddle for the Crimson Tide, who suffered a severe ankle injury in Knoxville last Saturday on the opening kickoff that will probably finish his season, and possibly his career. His replacement is Slade Bolden, who came in and played a key role in the passing attack against the Volunteers, racking up six catches for 94 yards. Even without Waddle, expect Mac Jones and the rest of the Alabama offense to continue their onslaught of defenses like they have so far in 2020.
The Battle for Highway 82 has been all Crimson Tide as of late, with the Bulldogs last win coming in 2007 behind head coach Sylvester Croom beating Nick Saban in his first year. The key to Mississippi State winning for the first time in 13 seasons is if the Bulldogs can protect the football on offense, and turn Alabama over, leading to short fields for their struggling offense. If not, expect the Tide to roll again, giving head coach Nick Saban a win for his 69th birthday.