By: Ryan Mace
The No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide will face the No. 11 Mississippi State Bulldogs this Saturday night at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala, in a battle of undefeated SEC Western division rivals. The game is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. ET and will be televised on ESPN.
Alabama (7-0, 4-0) is coming off another blowout win over rival Tennessee, 44-13. Alabama has scored at least 30 points in all of its games this season – a new school record.
Tide quarterback AJ McCarron threw for a career-high 306 yards and four touchdowns in the primetime win. He has 16 touchdowns on the season with no interceptions. McCarron said that this was the most complete game that Alabama has played all season long.
“We set the tone and we stayed on it,” he said. “We never let up, and that was the biggest thing Coach [Saban] keeps preaching.”
Freshman wide receiver Amari Cooper caught seven balls for 162 yards and two touchdowns, the most yards ever recorded by an Alabama freshman. He scored on catches of 23 yards and 42 yards, and also had a 30-yard touchdown nullified by a penalty in the second half.
Another freshman, running back TJ Yeldon, took over the workload on the ground, racking up 129 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries. This was his second consecutive 100-yard performance. Eddie Lacy added another 79 yards on the ground.
“We just kept grinding and grinding,” Tide head coach Nick Saban said. “We squandered a few opportunities at times, but I think the key to the drill was just keep playing and play the next play. Compete and be relentless in how you do it.”
Mississippi State is coming into their first real test of the season, fresh off a 45-3 thrashing of Middle Tennessee. Quarterback Tyler Russell led the Bulldogs with 191 yards and three touchdown passes in the win.
Junior running back LaDarius Perkins added 120 yards and a touchdown, a 64-yard burst, on the ground, as Mississippi State won their ninth straight game, dating back to last season.
“For us, it’s the position we want to be in,” fourth-year Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. “When I took this job, when we took over this program, these were exactly the kind of games we wanted to be in.”
Mississippi State will look to utilize its ball-hawking defense to neutralize Bama’s attack this Saturday night. The Bulldogs have forced 21 turnovers so far this season, ranking first in the nation in turnover margin.
“They lead the nation in turnover margin, which is always big in winning,” Saban said of the Bulldogs’ defense.
Alabama’s defense has shown its power this season as well, ranking third nationally with 20 turnovers forced, just one fewer than Mississippi State. Junior linebacker Nico Williams says that the Tide have a certain number in mind every game.
“We have a goal – three a game – and if we don’t meet that goal, we don’t meet it,” said Johnson. “But we’re going to come in try to create turnovers and give our offense a better chance to go down and score.”
With two great defenses being featured in this game, the “X-factor” may be which offense is able to break through first.
Mississippi State comes into the game ranking 27th in points per game, scoring an average of 36.7 points. Alabama’s offense sits at 14, scoring 41 points per game. Look for a big play on either offensive side to change the direction of this game.
Alabama 35 Mississippi State 20