It took four tries, but the Cowbell Corner Crystal Ball was right on the money two weeks ago. After not even correctly predicting the winner in Mississippi State's first three games of the season, not only did it foretell Texas A&M's victory over the Bulldogs back on October 17, but it nailed the final score of 28-14. Let's see how accurate it can be after an off week.
Truth be told, it might be a somewhat easy task to predict this week's contest. Mississippi State heads to No. 2 Alabama and the Bulldogs are a massive underdog. The Crimson Tide is favored by more than 30 points as of midday Friday. Yes, upsets happen. And no, games aren't played on paper. But fact is, the Bulldogs will need to play a nearly perfect game (and Alabama likely needs to play at about its worst) for MSU to have a chance. Considering that, this week's game for State might be about more than just the final score. It's about how the Bulldogs perform. After the Alabama game, the Bulldogs enter the back half of their schedule that features three or four games that can be considered winnable. Even if MSU can't topple the Tide, can State build some confidence and momentum for its final five games of the year? If so, they'll need to do these three things in Alabama:
The Bulldogs need to figure out the quarterback situation. Headed into Saturday's game, it's still not certain whether MSU will start K.J. Costello or Will Rogers behind center. No matter who starts, that doesn't mean that individual will finish the contest. Costello has started every game this season, but Rogers has relieved him in each of the last two contests. It's no secret MSU's offense has been incredibly sluggish in the last three games. The reasons for that have been many, but one of them has absolutely been inconsistent play at quarterback. So what's the best option? Is it allowing the veteran graduate transfer Costello to put the last three games in the past and try to get back to his form of the LSU game, or is letting the youngster, Rogers, go ahead and become the captain of the MSU offense? Leach likes to settle on one quarterback, but he hasn't been able to do that over the first half of the year. Saturday is likely to go a long way towards helping Leach finally find his man – something it feels like this team desperately needs.
The Bulldogs need to be strong on the offensive front. Maybe the most baffling thing about Mississippi State football all season has been how frequently the MSU offensive line has been beaten up front. Often times, teams are rushing just three or four guys and are consistently beating State's five offensive linemen. It doesn't take a math whiz to figure out five guys are more than three or four. It'd be understandable if MSU was consistently struggling against exotic blitzes, but this has been anything but that. Saturday might not be the best of opponents to try and figure things out against given the talent of Alabama, but the Bulldogs have to start showing strides of improving along the offensive line. If they don't, it doesn't really matter all that much who plays quarterback if that individual is always worried about getting popped.
The Bulldog defense needs to hold its own. While the MSU offensive line has maybe been the most disappointing thing for the Bulldogs so far this year, State's defense has been easily the biggest surprise. The group has been tremendous, leading the SEC in total defense. The unit faces its toughest test yet in the form of the Alabama offense, but should the Bulldogs just hold their own in Tuscaloosa, it will then be apparent that MSU can limit any team, anywhere. And that would allow State to feel confident in its chances to finish strong over the final five games of the season.
Even if Mississippi State does all of the above, it almost certainly won't be enough against Alabama. Still, the Bulldogs could have an incredibly successful day if they can just answer some of their questions and start feeling good about themselves again. The guess here is that State's defense will indeed look respectable for much of the day before tiring late, while the MSU offense will continue to struggle. The Bulldogs will almost assuredly fall to 1-4, but can then set their sights on what at least has a chance to be a less tumultuous and more successful final five games in 2020.
Cowbell Corner Prediction: Alabama 41, Mississippi State 7
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