Top-ranked Alabama will be without two of its defensive stalwarts when it looks to remain unbeaten in Saturday’s SEC visit to No. 18 Mississippi State. Senior middle linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton was lost for the season with a broken right kneecap in last Saturday’s victory over LSU while sophomore linebacker Mack Wilson will miss four-to-six weeks due to a foot injury.
Hamilton (5.5 tackles for loss) and Wilson (three interceptions) are two of the top performers on a superb unit that leads the nation in scoring defense (9.8 points per game) and ranks second in total defense (243.8 yards per game). The Crimson Tide continue to be ranked second in the College Football Playoff poll behind Georgia and can’t afford a slip-up against a Mississippi State squad brimming with self-belief after four consecutive victories. “We’re confident. There should never be a time where you line up against someone and not believe you can beat them,” Bulldogs quarterback Nick Fitzgerald told reporters. “I have full confidence that we can win. Alabama is a really good football team and is tops in the country and has been for awhile. You have to go out there and not worry about the name on the jersey.” The Crimson Tide rank ninth in scoring offense (40.9) and have won by more than 30 points on five occasions.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, ESPN. LINE: Alabama -14
ABOUT ALABAMA (9-0, 6-0 SEC): Senior outside linebacker Rashaan Evans (four sacks on the season) had 10 tackles against LSU and will be counted on even further while freshman Dylan Moses earned additional playing time by filling in after the injuries and recording 1.5 sacks against the Tigers. “He will have to step up,” Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban told reporters. “Dylan has made a lot of progress throughout the season and I think he has a lot better understanding of what to do and how to do it.” Sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts has been intercepted just once in 175 attempts and his 616 rushing yards rank second on the squad behind junior Damien Harris (730).
ABOUT MISSISSIPPI STATE (7-2, 3-2): The Bulldogs rank 11th nationally in rushing offense (259.3) while relying on Fitzgerald (801 yards, 12 touchdowns) and junior back Aeris Williams (776 yards). Fitzgerald, a junior, is more productive as a runner as he has thrown nearly as many interceptions (10) as touchdowns (13) while completing 56.8 percent of his passes for 1,459 yards. Mississippi State ranks seventh nationally in total defense (259.3) and is led by junior outside linebacker Montez Sweat (team-best 6.5 sacks) and senior middle linebacker Dez Harris (team-best 55 tackles).
1. Alabama has won nine consecutive meetings and rolled up 615 offensive yards in last season’s 51-3 victory.
2. The Bulldogs have scored four defensive touchdowns this season (three interceptions, one fumble).
3. Hurts passed for 183 yards against LSU to move into 10th place in Crimson Tide history with 4,186 — he needs 72 to pass No. 9 Walter Lewis (1980-83).
PREDICTION: Alabama 45, Mississippi State 21