Not that this Alabama team has a problem with motivation, but Nick Saban's not taking any chances.
This week's postgame press conference analogy centered on a 15-round boxing match. Saban, known to use such examples in interviews throughout a season, said his team needed to strike first. Certainly he relayed this message to his team during the week.
“You can't necessarily win the fight in the first round, but you can certainly lose it,” Saban said.
That's eight knockouts without a bruise or scratch for No. 1 Alabama (8-0), which strengthened its grip on the top Bowl Championship Series spot after a 38-7 win over Mississippi State. It only took a few minutes of watching all the NFL athletes flying around Saturday to validate that point.
For all the talk of Oregon's offensive explosion or Notre Dame's stingy defense or Kansas State's balanced attack, Alabama's sort of a collage of all three – with an offense improving every week. That's the scary part.
Saban has this team right where he wants it. Alabama embraces all the football clichés about execution and discipline. It's built around a defense capable of shutting out teams each week (Mississippi State's only score was in garbage fourth-quarter time with backups).
But then you add quarterback A.J. McCarron tossing 57-yard go routes for scores in the first quarter, and LSU has a problem next week in Baton Rouge.
On the first two drives of the game, McCarron (16-of-23, 208 yards and two scores) completed his first six passes for 89 yards and threw the 57-yard touchdown strike to Kenny Bell.
The once-constricting Tide offense is opening it up – not Oregon open, but more than some of Saban's previous teams.
“I think we're starting to find out this isn't your mom's ball control offense,” offensive lineman Barrett Jones said. “We're really explosive. If you want to put a lot of guys in the box and play man, we've got some receivers that can make plays and a quarterback that can get the ball to them.”
The last time Mississippi State got shut out was a 45-0 loss to Ole Miss in 2008. This year's Bulldogs – who started 7-0 for the second time in school history – were in danger of a repeat performance.
It's not that No. 11 Mississippi State got exposed or isn't as good as advertised. Who really picked them to knock off Alabama on the road? Maybe their 98th-weakest schedule aided that 7-0 start, but MSU's still an above-average Southeastern Conference team.
To knock Mississippi State might be an insult to the way Alabama's playing right now.
Mississippi State had no chance when arguably its best player, cornerback Johnthan Banks, was getting toasted deep. Bell simply outran him to get open on that 57-yarder with 3:27 left in the first.
When MSU quarterback Tyler Russell gets a clean pocket, he can do some damage. He's talented. But Alabama got consistent pressure without any trickery, just strength and quickness.
On their first 18 carries, the Bulldogs managed 40 yards.
Their two red-zone trips resulted in a blocked field goal in the first quarter and an interception in the third, which showcased where Alabama's at mentally.
The game was out of hand late in the third when Mississippi State drove 97 yards to set up a 2nd-and-goal from the 1.
After getting stuffed on second down, Russell dropped back and threw to the middle of the end zone. Linebacker Robert Lester read the play and corralled the ball one-handed.
When asked about the play, Lester said, “it's all about execution” and playing with the same intensity every quarter.
Yawn-inducing stuff, just like much of the game. But this is how Alabama thrives, doing most of its explaining with its immense on-field talent.
Cornerback Dee Milliner said Alabama wants a shutout every week and can “if we want to” by cleaning up a few defensive techniques.
The Tide hasn't allowed more than 14 points to a Football Bowl Subdivision team since Auburn in November 2010.
Don't worry, Auburn has as good a chance to put more than 14 on Alabama next month as Saban has re-joining the Dolphins.
But forget Auburn. Jones can't get one-loss LSU out of his head.
“It was hard for us to not think about it honestly until now,” said Jones about Saturday's game. “We're kind of almost relieved that we can finally address it…We knew they are still a really good team. Any time you play in Death Valley, you're going to get their best. We're going to prepare for a dogfight.”
Surely Saban will have good dogfight analogies lined up for this week. Keeping this team motivated might be his biggest task, because everything else is in place. There was so little to critique Saturday, Saban was visibly upset in the game's final minutes by the way the backups were playing. He didn't like the way they took a knee, apparently.
But with this defense, even Saban seems content.
“These guys have really set out with an attitude that they wanted to prove something,” Saban said.