November 7, 2007

Alabama-MSU: 5 on the spot

The Alabama football team faces Mississippi State in Starkville Saturday, seeking its fifth Southeastern Conference victory, which would assure the team of a winning league record. Here are five players to watch against the Bulldogs:

1.] Lorenzo Washington
Despite Mississippi State's newfound passing success, the gameplan against Alabama will begin and end with the running game. Bulldogs running back Anthony Dixon is far more effective between the tackles than he is running wide, which puts a premium on Washington's play in the middle. The sophomore noseguard had a solid game against LSU with five stops and a quarterback pressure. He will need to deliver another good performance against a team that will test the middle of Alabama's run defense like no opponent has since Arkansas.

2.] P.J. Fitzgerald
The Alabama punter struggled against LSU Saturday after punting well in previous games against Tennessee and Ole Miss. Alabama's history with Mississippi State is that of field-position games, which means a 50-yarder or two from Fitzgerald this week couldn't be more well-timed. The Crimson Tide defense has allowed over 400 yards per game over its last four, and can use every bit of field position Fitzgerald can provide.

3.] Jonathan Lowe
In his first chance to play against his former teammates, the transfer running back can make an impact Saturday. Last week, Lowe got his first action at running back this season and carried 13 times, a team-high, against LSU. It remains to be seen if Lowe will handle the heaviest rushing load again this week, but running the ball won't be his only chance to do some damage. With Javier Arenas' reputation as a return man ever-growing, don't be surprised if Mississippi State's kickoffs are directed to Lowe's side on a regular basis.

4.] Mike Johnson
Johnson gets another tough assignment at his right tackle spot this week in facing Bulldogs defensive end Titus Brown. MSU's top pass rusher has recorded seven sacks this season, which ranks tied for second in the SEC, and had a big game against UA in MSU's 24-16 win last year. After Alabama allowed seven sacks last week to LSU, look for Mississippi State to bring pressure on the Alabama passing game. Protection for John Parker Wilson, while a group effort, begins with Johnson holding his own against a Tuscaloosa native with something to prove.

5.] Prince Hall
Hall finds his way onto this list for pretty much the same reason as Washington: Mississippi State likes to run the ball up the middle, and Alabama needs Hall to play well against that style more than any other. The Bulldogs offensive line has improved throughout the season, and Dixon is well on his way to a 1,000-yard campaign. Alabama's middle linebacker has been a fixture in the starting lineup ever since freshman Rolando McClain's playing time began to wane several weeks ago. Defenses that have contained Dixon have been able to force him to bounce plays outside and run laterally, where he is far less effective and an easier target. Hall's role in this effort will be crucial.

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