3 things to know as Alabama football hosts Mississippi State, Mike Leach Air Raid offense

Brett Hudson
Tide Sports

Alabama football has seen and defended a lot in the modern era of offense, but never the Air Raid.

Here are three things to know going into the Crimson Tide’s home game Saturday against Mississippi State.

Air Raid has been grounded

Some aspects of Mississippi State’s Air Raid experiment under new coach Mike Leach have been predictable. The Bulldogs lead the SEC in pass attempts and are last in run attempts, despite having played one more game than Florida and Vanderbilt. Mississippi State even notched an inexplicable upset to start the Leach era, winning in Baton Rouge.

The unexpected has been the offensive performance since that win over LSU.

Despite leading the league in pass attempts, the Bulldogs are just third in passing yards. Mississippi State amassed fewer than 300 yards in each of its last two games, something Leach’s three most recent Washington State teams only did once.

Leach’s debut in the SEC showed all of the genius elements of the Air Raid, and his games since have shown the shortcomings.

Step up Slade Bolden

Alabama has now gone through a full week of practice knowing it won’t have Jaylen Waddle, who suffered a season-ending ankle injury against Tennessee. Despite missing all but the opening kickoff against the Vols, he is second in the SEC in receiving yards. 

More:Slade Bolden to 'fill in fine' for Jaylen Waddle in Alabama football's slot receiver position

Slade Bolden stepped in admirably for him, catching six passes for 94 yards, but now he is more than a temporary fill-in. Barring a breakout from Xavier Williams or one of its trio of freshmen, Alabama is relying on Bolden as its slot receiver for the rest of the season.

DeVonta Smith near history

Running back Najee Harris has been passing Alabama greats for  career rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. Wide receiver DeVonta Smith will soon do the same on UA’s receiving list.

More:Alabama football offense facing toughest challenge in Mississippi State pass defense

Smith enters Saturday with 2,665 career receiving yards. He is 77 behind Jerry Jeudy for fourth and 116 behind Calvin Ridley for third. Smith averages 111.2 yards, making both jumps feasible, albeit this game coming against the best pass defense UA has faced this season.

Smith is four receiving touchdowns from tying Amari Cooper’s school career record of 31 and 16 receptions from tying Julio Jones for fourth with 179 career receptions. The 16 receptions required to reach Jones’ career total would also push his 2020 receptions total to 61, which would be two behind Ridley’s 2017 season for 10th in school history. Smith’s 68 catches last season are tied for sixth in school history.

Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or bhudson@tuscaloosanews.com or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson