Earlier today, Bill Connelly took on the challenge of coming up with reasons that Mississippi State can challenge Alabama this weekend. He came up with three and only three.
I have been pondering the same question today, though I approached it from a different perspective. I wanted to see if there was anything that the Bulldogs do better than the Crimson Tide does. Bama is famously at or near the top of most statistical categories this year. Their schedule strength hasn't been the hardest, but whether you go by Jeff Sagarin's or Brian Fremeau's SOS ratings, MSU has actually played a worse set of teams.
So keeping that in mind, that Mississippi State has the advantage of a weaker schedule, where are the Bulldogs better? To answer, here is a comically long list of categories to compare the teams. Just FYI, I left out MSU's game against I-AA Jackson State.
|Pass Eff. D||83.1||106.65|
|Punt Ret. D||8.86||-0.57|
|KO Ret. D||23.63||20.18|
|D INT Pct.||6.88%||5.13%|
|3rd Down O||46.43%||40.24%|
|3rd Down D||25%||36.47%|
|RZ Score Pct.||96.77%||83.33%|
|RZ TD Pct.||74.19%||58.33%|
|RZ Score Pct. All.||58.33%||73.33%|
|RZ TD Pct. All.||41.67%||46.67%|
|Expl. Run Pct.||17.53%||12.22%|
|Expl. Run Pct. All.||4.63%||15.60%|
|Expl. Pass Pct.||14.38%||13.30%|
|Expl. Pass Pct. All.||5.82%||6.67%|
"All." is short for allowed. At the end, "Expl." is short for explosive. For this part, I included runs of 10 or more yards and passes of 20 or more yards.
So the answer is yes, Mississippi State does a few things better, but not many. The return coverage teams are faring better on both kickoffs and punts, and the State line is doing better at preventing sacks and tackles for loss. A few categories are virtual dead heats. Turnover margin is basically the same, and so it interception percentage with Bama having thrown none in 160 attempts and MSU having thrown one in 188 attempts. But that's about it.
Alabama is ahead in most of these categories. It's well out ahead in many of them. It has about a two yard advantage in yards per pass, about a touchdown advantage in points per game, and a commanding lead in both passing efficiency and passing efficiency defense. Third down defense isn't close, and neither are red zone touchdown percentage or percentage of runs allowed to go for at least 10 yards. Include the fact that the Tide has faced a somewhat tougher schedule, and this is a landslide in Alabama's favor.
No, games aren't played on paper. Yes, they play the games for a reason. I'm just here to tell you that I see no hidden edge in Mississippi State's favor. I can't find some special thing to key on to give some kind of hope in the Bulldogs' favor. Believe me, I've tried. All I can say to Dan Mullen is, get some turnovers, win the field position game, and don't commit stupid penalties. That's almost all anyone can say, though, besides maybe "good luck".