A battle of undefeateds

Saturday will be a battle of the perfect records when No. 11 Mississippi State comes to Bryant-Denny Stadium to try and knock off No. 1 Alabama. The Bulldogs are reeling and as Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban said this week, MSU is the best team his has faced all season.

Saturday will be a matchup of undefeateds when No. 11 Mississippi State (7-0, 3-0 SEC) comes to Bryant-Denny Stadium to challenge No. 1 Alabama (7-0, 4-0).

But don't be fooled by these perfect records as both teams' toughest conference games are still to come. The Bulldogs have only played Auburn, Kentucky and Tennessee, who are a combined 0-14 in the SEC, while the Crimson Tide has played Arkansas, Ole Miss, Missouri and UT, who are a combined 3-12.

But you can only play the games on your schedule and regardless of its strengths or weaknesses Saturday is a must-win for both parties: For MSU because they've lost to Bama 74 times—more than any other team in its history—and only beaten them 18 times, the last victory coming five years ago; for Alabama because a loss derails its national championship route.

Last year, Alabama beat Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss. 24-7, but this year's team is different. Quarterback Tyler Russell is more experienced and mature, running back LaDarius Perkins leads the SEC in rushing, and cornerback Johnthan Banks is one of the best cornerbacks in the country and has a league-best four interceptions.

Earlier this week Alabama head coach Nick Saban described Russell, who has gone 122-of-203 for 1,573 yards (averaging 224.7 passing yards per game, which is 14 more than A.J. McCarron) and 15 touchdowns with only one interception, as "aware" and "instinctive."

"Tyler Russell's a big, physical, athletic guy who has a really good arm," he said. "He can throw the ball down the field. This year he's shown a lot of poise and experience in getting the ball out of his hand quickly. They're a much, much better passing team than a year ago when he shared time and played some, started some. There's not really anything he doesn't do well in my opinion."

Linebacker Nico Johnson, agreed and said MSU's success has a lot do with Russell because of his leadership.

"They follow him," Johnson said. "When he's rolling, they're rolling, so we've got to make it less comfortable for all of them to be able to affect all of them."

Johnson explained this offense, which averages 36.7 points per game, is one of the tougher ones to prepare for because it's different, especially the running game led by Perkins.

"It goes from downhill football to running counters and play-action here and there," he said. "So it's difficult."

MSU's big offensive line has allowed tough-to-tackle Perkins to surprise a lot of people by leading the conference in rushing with 103.4 yards per game.

"A lot of people haven't heard of him," said Johnson. "This is his chance to showcase what he can do. We're going to have to come in and make them one-dimensional—stop the run and make them, force them, to pass the ball."

When Russell opts for the pass, he looks for receiver Chad Bumphis, who averages over 16 yards per catch. Saban described him as "explosive."

Another thing Mississippi State is good at is forcing turnovers, just like Alabama. The Bulldogs lead the nation with a plus-17 turnover margin (2.43 per game), having given the ball up just four times (three fumbles, one interception) and have 21 takeaways (12 interceptions, nine fumble recoveries).

The Tide is third nationally with a plus-14 margin (2.0 per game), having given up six fumbles and forced 20 takeaways (13 interceptions, seven fumble recoveries). Bama has scored 111 points off its 20 turnovers.

To sum up what Alabama is up against this weekend, Saban was crystal clear: "This is without a doubt the best team that we've played this season," he said.

For more Alabama coverage, follow Laken Litman on Twitter!

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