Everything you wanted to know about No. 16 Mississippi State at No. 1 Alabama

Crimson Tide aims to win 11th straight against closest SEC school geographically

Kickoff: Saturday, 2:30 p.m. CT

Site: Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, Ala.

TV: CBS

Series: Alabama leads 81-18-3. Alabama won 31-24 in 2017.

Rankings: No. 1 Alabama No. 1; No. 16 Mississippi State

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It goes without saying that Alabama is riding high.

It is undefeated (9-0, 6-0 SEC), is coming off a 29-0 victory at No. 7 LSU and is ranked No. 1 in the College Football Playoff rankings.

You know the old football about if it looks like a trap game, and feels like a trap game, it might be a trap game.

Even though Mississippi State is ranked No. 16, the Bulldogs have the advantage of coming off a win against Louisiana Tech while Alabama is always a little beat up after facing LSU. Moreover, the Crimson Tide has its annual rivalry showdown with Auburn looming in addition to having already clinched a spot in the SEC Championship Game against Georgia.

“Moving forward, the battle gets very internal in terms of putting the last game behind you and looking forward to the challenges and the test of the future, so you can’t really be complacent or satisfied,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “We need to put that behind us and get ready for the next team, Mississippi State, which is a very good team.

“They’re 6-3, they have one of the top defensive teams in the country. Really good front. Really good pass efficiency defense. Hard to run against. One of the top defensive teams in the country.”

One thing that will work in Saban’s favor in trying to avoid a letdown is that Alabama nearly lost this game a year ago.

The teams were nearly in the same situation only the Crimson Tide was No. 2, when Jalen Hurts arguably had his finest moment as a starting quarterback in 2017. He connected with Calvin Ridley on third-and-15 and then DeVonta Smith for a 26-yard touchdown pass with 25 seconds remaining as Alabama survived 31-24.

“It was tough,” Crimson Tide senior running back Damien Harris said. “Very hostile environment. Playing a tough team; good on offense, defense and special teams.

“They do a lot of things that gave us issues. I remember that being a game I didn’t really know if we were going to be able to pull that out.”

Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald was 13-for-24 for 158 yards and ran for 66 yards and a touchdown.

But this time the game will be at Bryant-Denny Stadium, where Alabama hasn’t played since Oct. 13, and the Crimson Tide has the Heisman Trophy frontrunner at quarterback in sophomore Tua Tagovailoa.

“I hope we are able to make it difficult on him,” Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead said. “I think they are up near 550 yards per game in total offense and over 50 points.

“Great players like (Tagovailoa), I call them game wreckers, because they can take the games over by themselves. I don’t know that it is ever necessarily a matter of stopping them, as it is neutralizing them or containing them. That is our hope with him.”

Tagovailoa has been slowed somewhat by a knee injury, but Alabama’s running game has improved of late and the defense has started looking as good as the Crimson Tide offense. LSU was limited to 12 rushing yards on 25 carries and it was only the fourth time in 25 years that the Tigers were shut out at Tiger Stadium.

Alabama has also won the last 10 meetings against the Bulldogs.

So either Mississippi State (6-2, 2-3 SEC) is hitting Alabama at the right time, or it just may be that there is no right time to play the Crimson Tide this season.

“I don’t think there is enough time in the press conference or ink in the printer to go through all of his superlatives,” Moorhead said about Saban. “Obviously, the best head coach in college football right now and arguably one of the best of all time.”

Joe Moorhead praises Nick Saban, Alabama

What Saban has done 83 miles to the east of Starkville down Highway 82 is a model that Moorhead is attempting to lay the groundwork to build his program towards in his first season.

“We talk all the time here in our building with our kids about the term 'championship standard'," Moorhead said. "Quite frankly, this is what we're chasing. Alabama is the gold standard in this league. I told our team that 'no one falls to the top of the mountain'. Those guys have worked their tails off and have earned the right to be there and it's our job to try to go up there and knock them off."

A win on Saturday would send shock waves throughout the college football landscape, but wouldn’t knock Alabama out of the playoff picture.

Moorhead is cognizant of the near-perfect game plan and execution thereof that it will take to pull the upset over an undefeated Crimson Tide team that is averaging 565.6 yards and 51.3 points per game.

"We're not going to crank it up this week just because it's Alabama," Moorhead said. "But we do have to have a heightened awareness coming into the game that the margin of error is almost negligible."

Mississippi State at Alabama: Key matchup

Alabama offense vs. MSU defense. The Crimson Tide ranks first nationally in scoring offense, total offense and passer efficiency, while the Bulldogs have only given up nine touchdowns all season. Mississippi State ranks in the top 25 in 16 different defensive categories.

Mississippi State players to watch

• Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald has fared well the past two games. He completed 62 percent of his passes for 484 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions while also rushing for 195 yards and two more scores in wins over Texas A&M and Louisiana Tech.

• Wide receiver Deddrick Thomas led the Bulldogs with 70 yards receiving against Louisiana Tech and also scored his first touchdown of the season. Thomas also excelled in the return game and finished with a team-high 131 all-purpose yards.

• Linebacker Erroll Thompson is second on the team with 62 tackles and has also added four tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and two interceptions. Thompson has an 88.1 coverage grade from Pro Football Focus, which is tops among SEC linebackers.

Alabama players to watch

• Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa remains the clear Heisman frontrunner after Alabama's 29-0 statement victory at LSU. He has sailed through SEC play so far, completing 99 of 151 passes (65.6 percent) for 1,778 yards, with 19 touchdowns and one interception. For the season, he has directed 72 drives with 45 resulting in touchdowns (62.5 percent) and six ending in field goals. In those drives, the Tide offense is 36 of 57 (63.2 percent) on third-down chances. Against LSU, Tagovailoa threw a pass in the fourth quarter for the first time this season.

• Running back Damien Harris, a senior, rushed for 107 yards against LSU, his second 100-yard game of the season as he has shared time with Najee Harris (84 carries, 572 yards) and Josh Jacobs (59 carries, 284 yards). Damien Harris has rushed 87 times for 542 yards, giving him 2,736 career yards to move into ninth place in school history.

• Linebacker Mack Wilson made a leaping interception in the end zone in the fourth quarter against LSU, giving the Crimson Tide at least one takeaway in 51 of its past 53 games, dating to the start of the 2015 season. Alabama has forced 90 turnovers (62 interceptions, 28 fumbles) in that span, returning 21 of those takeaways for touchdowns. Wilson had four tackles, including one for loss, vs. LSU.

Mississippi State at Alabama: Draft slant

• Alabama left tackle Jonah Williams, called the best blocker in the country by NFLDraftScout.com senior analyst Rob Rang, had six knockdown blocks at LSU, the third time this season he’s had that many. Williams helped the Tide average 7.6 yards per carry at Tiger Stadium. It’s the most against LSU since 2002.

• Mississippi State guard Deion Calhoun is the Bulldogs' most experienced offensive lineman with 32 career starts. The 6-foot-3, 320-pounder has helped bolster a line that is averaging an SEC-best 6.04 yards per carry.

Tide-bits

• Alabama sophomore wide receiver Jerry Jeudy has topped 100 receiving yards in three of the past four games, averaging 22.6 yards per catch, which ranks third in the nation. With 880 yards on 39 receptions, and is already 10thon the Crimson Tide’s all-time single-season receiving list. Pro Football Focus has him averaging 3.8 yards per route run and 9.4 yards after the catch, which are both second nationally.

• Quote to note: "You're not going to make a living handing the ball off up the middle against this front. It's just not realistic. We have to be creative in the ways that we run the ball and creative in the ways we get it on the perimeter and, quite frankly, being able to protect and get guys open. It is going to be a huge challenge. This is an excellent defense." -- MSU coach Joe Moorhead.

• Nose tackle Quinnen Williams is coming off a huge game at LSU, where he had a team-high 10 tackles, including seven solo stops, 3.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. With the 29-0 shutout, Alabama moved to seventh nationally in scoring defense at 14.1 points per game.

• Mississippi State running back Kylin Hill played last week but was considered day-to-day this week with a lower-body injury. Also day-to-day were wide receiver Osirus Mitchell (upper-body injury), linebacker Sh'mar Kilby-Lane (lower body) and Jaquarius Landrews (lower body). For Alabama, quarterback Jalen Hurts (ankle) is questionable, while wide receiver Henry Ruggs III (ankle/foot) and DeVonta Smith (hamstring) and running back Najee Harris (ankle) are all expected to play.

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Christopher  Walsh
EditorChristopher Walsh