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Big-time opportunity: MSU takes belief, plan into battle with Alabama

October 27, 2012

Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell (17) throws a pass against Alabama last season. (Photo by Kim Murrell, SDN)

Mississippi State fans believe in their undefeated and 12th-ranked Bulldogs.

Entering tonight's Southeastern Conference Western Division battle against the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide, the support has been incredible.

Signs bearing #WeBelieve, 8-0, can be seen in yards, storefronts, and office cubicles all around the area. Wherever you see a maroon clad State fan, you’ll likely find someone who has joined the #WeBelieve movement in support of their Bulldogs and their efforts to knock of the top-ranked team in the nation.

If MSU is to shock the college football world, it will do so by solving the riddle presented by coach Nick Saban’s top-ranked defense. The Crimson Tide lead the nation in virtually every defensive category, including scoring defense (8.3 points per game), rush defense (58.7 yards per game) and total defense (195.6 yards per game).

Mississippi State will attack Alabama’s talented defense with a balanced offense led by a pair of juniors, quarterback Tyler Russell and LaDarius Perkins. State is averaging 36.7 points per game while rushing for 180.4 yards per contest and getting 236.4 yards through the air.

Russell, who was recruited heavily by Alabama, has completed over 60 percent of his passes this season for 1,573 yards and 15 touchdowns while only having one interception. Russell has done an impressive job of spreading the football around this season, but it is Chad Bumphis who has proven to be the big-play receiver for the Bulldogs. The senior has 29 receptions for 479 yards and six touchdowns.

Perkins quietly leads the SEC in rushing with 724 yards, 5.8 yards per carry. He also stands as one of two tailbacks in college football who has scored at least one touchdown in each of the first seven weeks of the season.

"It should be a great challenge for us playing a team that does not show many weaknesses," MSU coach Dan Mulen said. "They are very well-coached, well-disciplined and filled with talent at every position.

“They don't make many mistakes and do not turn the ball over. They pound on you and pound on you and wait for you to make a mistake as the game goes on. It should be a great challenge for our guys as we will have to play our best game of the year.”

State faces one of the more consistent offenses in college football which will be led by senior signal-caller AJ McCarron. For the season, he has completed 68.8 percent of his passes for 1,476 yards and 16 touchdowns.

"AJ has played very well for us," Saban said. "He hasn't turned the ball over, makes a lot of good choices and decisions, and his passing efficiency has been really good. I think AJ has been a really good leader for us, affected the other players on the team and the last couple of weeks I think we have really come together a little better offensively, in terms of consistency and balance."

The Tide quarterback has yet to throw an interception this season but he’ll no doubt be challenged by a talented Bulldog defense that leads the nation with a plus 16 turnover margin.

Mississippi State is ranked ninth nationally allowing just 14.4 points per game and 21st in pass defense allowing 188.6 yards per game.

Senior cornerback Darius Slay has emerged as a playmaker for the Bulldogs which has forced more teams to throw toward All-American cornerback Johnthan Banks, who has 16 career interceptions. Both Slay and Banks have four INTs for the season.

Mississippi State and Alabama will settle the battle for the top spot in the SEC West tonight on ESPN with kickoff set for 7:40 p.m. inside Bryant-Denny Stadium.

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