Alabama-Mississippi State dispatch: Upset-minded Bulldogs calm, confident
Mississippi State could vault into the national top-five and atop the SEC West with a Saturday upset, but Alabama hasn't given up more than three touchdowns since the Reagan era, it seems. The Bulldogs are confident enough to discuss conference championship hopes this year.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- We’re live from Tuscaloosa, where the creepy Nick Saban statue is game-ready and Mark Ingram's Heisman Trophy is looking shiny in the on-campus athletic facility.
The Tide is prepared, too, holding about a 45-minute walkthrough around 4 p.m. Friday -- indoors, despite the 70-and-sunny conditions. Then it’s off to the Hotel Capstone for the night as Alabama tries to quell the growing #HailState brigade.
Both Alabama and Mississippi State are relatively healthy going into this one, but only one team opened the week a 24-point favorite -- and it ain’t Dan Mullen’s squad.
But the Bulldogs, at least now, can talk in terms of perfection, just like Alabama. Both can go undefeated. Talking with Mullen this week, he sounds calm and confident. And why wouldn’t he be? Knock off Alabama, and the Bulldogs might vault into the national top five. Lose to them at Bryant-Denny Stadium, and nobody in Starkville’s going to be upset.
Mullen said MSU has a precedent in place -- chase championships, nothing less. As for that spread, Mullen said he's eager to see how good his team really is.
“My discussion’s always about the SEC Championship game,” Mullen said. “I’ve been undefeated only once as a coach (Utah in 2004), and we never played for a national championship.”
The drive from Starkville to UA’s campus is about 90 minutes, but the schools' recruiting bases are vastly different. The Bulldogs start by trying to win the top in-state recruits. Alabama can basically chase anybody.
But Mullen says that reality shouldn’t limit the Bulldogs in this game.
“When we came here, this is what we envisioned doing,” Mullen said. “I’m not surprised we’re in position we’re in. We’ve had leadership, we’ve recruited talented players and we recruit here (in state).”
This weekend, however, Mullen’s biggest concern will be scoring on an Alabama defense that hasn’t given up more than 14 points to an FBS school in 23 months. The Tide have a lot of balance defensively. It's hard to exploit a weakness. Linebacker play is still elite.
In fact, one SEC assistant coach told me linebacker C.J. Mosley (58 tackles, 2.5 sacks, two interceptions) is the most instinctive linebacker Alabama’s had in the Nick Saban era. That’s saying a lot considering the NFL talent that has manned the middle in crimson.
Mosley said the Tide’s recipe for defensive success requires a heavy dose of perspective.
“In a big game, after a big play, we’re not going to treat it like it’s the first or the last one,” Mosley said. “Celebrate with teammates, move on. They might run for an 80-yard touchdown the next play.”
Not likely. The 6-foot-2, 232-pound Mosley says his strengths can offset his lack of ideal linebacker size.
“Instincts, sideline to sideline making plays,” Mosley said. “Life through blockers. I’m not one of the biggest linebackers, but I get off blocks and make plays inside and out.”
Mosley isn’t the only Tide defender exploding off the blocks, which will make it a long night for much-improved Bulldogs quarterback Tyler Russell. This will be closer than many think because Mississippi State doesn’t turn it over, but the Tide will physically wear the Bulldogs down late.
FINAL: Alabama 20, Mississippi State 13
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