Mississippi State offense gearing up for major challenge


STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi State’s offense wants to change its recent history of frustration against Alabama.

The Bulldogs have lost 11 straight games to Alabama and have failed to score more than seven points in eight of those matchups, including a 24-0 defeat last year.

Mississippi State had two weeks to prepare for the fourth-ranked Crimson Tide (8-1, 5-1, No. 5 College Football Playoff ) after racking up 640 yards in a 54-24 blowout of Arkansas. And while Alabama’s defense doesn’t seem quite as strong as usual, the Bulldogs (4-5, 2-4) will need a huge effort to have a chance of breaking through.

“Obviously, it is a huge challenge against a defense of this caliber,” Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead said. “Every week we continue to gain confidence and you see those growth things show up on game day.”

Mississippi State certainly showed progress in its last game. Kylin Hill ran for 234 yards to lead a 460-yard rushing attack against Arkansas. Hill has rushed for 1,024 yards this season to lead the Southeastern Conference.

The dominant performance against Arkansas followed a 49-30 loss to Texas A&M in which Mississippi State rushed for 239 yards.

“The last two weeks, offensively, we’ve been very good and have scored a lot of points,” quarterback Tommy Stevens said. “So we carried the momentum over and we’re starting to do things better, offensively.’’

Alabama offers a far greater challenge.

Mississippi State catches an Alabama team that’s coming off a 46-41 loss to No. 1 LSU and needs to bounce back to keep its playoff hopes alive.

Alabama ranks sixth in the SEC and 30th among all Football Bowl Subdivision teams in total defense (335.4). Alabama led the nation in that category in 2016 and 2017 and ranked 16th last year.

“It’s an opportunity to go against some of the best players in the country to see where you stack up,” Moorhead said. “With the offense, defense and special teams unit, you’re going against some of the best in the country.

“From a program standpoint, this is an Alabama team that for the better part of the decade, people have been working to knock off. So it is an awesome opportunity and our kids are excited about practice this week.”

Mississippi State is continuing to sort out its quarterback situation.

Penn State graduate transfer Tommy Stevens has started six games, while freshman Garrett Shrader has drawn three stars. Moorhead has yet to name a starter but has hinted toward Stevens getting the nod.

“We’re listing it as an ‘or’ right now,” Moorhead said. “The good news is that Garrett is back to being completely healthy. So we went through practice yesterday and both guys got reps. Tommy got most of the reps with the ones and Garrett got most of the reps with the twos. We’re going to keep progressing through and see how Garrett is coming along.

“The Arkansas game was the first one where Tommy was completely healthy in quite some time.”

Moorhead has played multiple quarterbacks in some games, and that option is on the table for the rest of the season.

“I don’t really think I see a lot of difference in what they do with whichever quarterback they play,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “They kind of run their offense, run a lot of quarterback runs with both guys and run the same kind of passing game with both guys.”

Stevens went 12 of 16 for 172 yards with two touchdowns against Arkansas. He also rushed for a season-high 74 yards.

“Their skills set don’t really differ that much,” Moorhead said of his two quarterbacks. “Tommy, from an experience standpoint, has seen more things over the course of his career heading into a game of an opponent of this caliber. You can fall back a little on that experience, whereas Garrett is doing some unique things with his feet.

“But we’re going to need both of them like we have throughout the season. We will get it hammered out through the week and see how it goes.”


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