No. 1 Alabama worries about itself, 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.”
He added: “They’re the gold standard of the league. They’ve done it the best for the longest time.”