Giving up over 27 points per game so far in 2023, the Mississippi State Bulldogs are 90th in the country in points allowed, and, in particular, have struggled in the secondary. Head coach Zach Arnett was the defensive coordinator as a fresh new face to the P5 level before getting bumped up to head coach after Mike Leach’s passing last year. So the team is still running Arnett’s defensive philosophy - keep everything underneath and limit the big play.
Defensive Coordinator Zach Arnett is still a young, up and coming DC with the Bulldogs being his first P5 job. He runs a 3-3-5 scheme that is intent on limiting damage, and allowing the opposing offense as many underneath plays as they want. It’s a schematic gamble that assumes, eventually, a college QB is going to mess up.
Matt Brock was promoted up from outside linebackers coach to defensive coordinator to take over playcalling duties, so nothing much changed from last year. However, the losses of Emmanual Forbes at cornerback and Cam Young at DT to the early parts of the NFL draft have definitely taken their toll.
Defensive tackle Nathan Pickering was a highly rated recruit that was a top Alabama target a few years ago, and the big man has 2.5 sacks so far in the season. However, the strength of the defense is the linebacking group, led by Jett Johnson. The 5th year senior has gone from being a speedy coverage linebacker to an all-around playmaker for the Bulldogs, leading the team in tackles, tackles for loss, sacks, forced fumbles, and interceptions. He’ll likely be one of the main middle linebacker prospects in the upcoming NFL draft.
He’s flanked by the stocky graduate senior Nathaniel Watson, who is a nasty blitzer and run stopper in his own right. The pair have played a whole lot of SEC games together the last few years and are as solid of a duo as you’ll find.
The secondary has been the biggest issue for State, as they’re allowing opposing QBs to complete almost 75% of their passes. They’re playing an extreme brand of off-coverage football and are just getting nickel and dimed to death all game long. Whether the issue is with the talent in the secondary or just an exploitable scheme is hard to tell. But Alabama fans will recognize safety Marcus Banks as a former Tide backup cornerback with really good speed.
According to the DraftKings Sportsbook, Alabama is favored by 14.5 points with an O/U of 46.5. Vegas is expecting a low-scoring game, somewhere around a score of 30-15. I think there’s a chance this could be a breakout game for Jalen Milroe due to the secondary weakness, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Alabama go higher than that.
That does, of course, assume that they continue to play like they did in the second half of the Ole Miss game last week, because if the Alabama reverts back to the offense we saw before that, 30 points might be generous.
The game will be an 8:00 pm CT night game and will be on the main ESPN channel.
Best of luck to Alabama, and Roll Tide!