Over the years there has been a phenomenon in Southeastern Conference football. A team plays as hard as it can against Alabama, and the following week that team loses, sometimes to a team it would be expected to defeat.
Alabama is not immune to that human failing, and finds itself coming off a big, emotional 30-16 win over previously second-ranked LSU. This is not a time for a letdown. Next up for Bama is Mississippi State, which has somewhat quietly put together a nice 7-2 season, 3-2 in the SEC. Unlike several Crimson Tide opponents, the Bulldogs did not have an open date last week, but Mississippi State did play at Missouri in a Thursday night game, so did grab a couple of extra days of rest.
Kickoff Saturday in Starkville is at 3 p.m. CST and CBS will televise the game. Alabama is 8-1 overall, 5-1 in the conference.
Alabama returned to the practice field Monday. Bama Coach Nick Saban said, “The LSU game was a good effort by our team. It was a great team win. I think in every aspect of the game we did a lot of good things, whether it was offense, defense, or special teams. But as always we look and evaluate those things, and we're focused on correcting the things that we could do better so that we can continue to improve.
“Any time you have an emotional win, you've got to get your team to respond the right way and make sure that they're focused on what they need to do to play just as well the next week or better against a very good Mississippi State team that's ranked and is a very, very good team.
“Dan Mullen has done a really good job there.
“They're a very physical team. They're well coached. They play well in every aspect of the game. They are very good on special teams. Their defense is ranked, giving up like 17 points a game. They're very physical on defense, they do a lot of things, create a lot of problems.”
Saban was asked if it is up to the coaching staff or the responsibility of the players to have that focus for the Bulldogs. As might be expected, the answer was that Saban expects both coaches and players to be involved.
"I think we want to deliver the message early in the week,” he said. “You're always hopeful that players see it like you see it and they're thinking the same way that you're thinking and they understand what they need to do so they can go play well in terms of how they practice, how they prepare for the game, the psychological disposition that they need to have to be able to go into the game to be able to play that well on the road against a good team. All these things are points that we're possibly trying to make and hopefully the players reinforce them. I think that's what you call leadership in effecting other players on the team. But it is important that everyone get the message."
Tide linebacker Reggie Ragland, who is certainly an Alabama leader, said Monday before practice, “You have to let everybody know [the win over LSU] is over with. It’s time to go forward now. We’re 0-0. We’ve got another game in front of us and we have to stay focused on the task at hand and get better this week.”
Has he addressed his teammates on the subject? “Not yet,” he said, “but we will have that conversation.”
Bama center Ryan Kelly said that is Saban’s message after an emotional win. “From today until we get to Starkville. We had a really good game last week, but thinking about that game doesn’t help you for this game. We know Mississippi State has a really good team. That’s going to be our goal all week is to keep high energy, not let anyone get content with where we are.”
Last week the Tide defense had as first priority stopping LSU tailback Leonard Fournette, and the mission was accomplished beyond expectations, holding the Heisman Trophy candidate to just 31 yards on 19 carries.
This week the main man for Mississippi State is the quarterback, Dak Prescott. Prescott was the pre-season choice to be the All-Southeastern Conference quarterback and has had an excellent season and career with 36 school records. This year he has completed 200 of 300 passes for 2,351 yards and 18 touchdowns with just one interception and has thrown for 300 or more yards in each of the last three games. He is also the Bulldogs’ leading rusher with 86 carries for 418 yards.
Saban said the senior “has a lot of experience, does a really good job of executing their offense, and certainly has pass efficiency.”
Saban also had good things to say about Prescott’s favorite targets, De’Runnya Wilson (6-5, 215) and Fred Ross. Ross has 51 receptions for 548 yards, Wilson 37 catches for 626 yards. “These two guys in combination are two really outstanding wide receivers.
“This is an outstanding team all the way around. This is not the time for anyone to think that just because we had what some would call a big win, there's any reason to think that the next game is not the most important game that we play and everybody's got to focus and get prepared to do the best job to play even better in this game.”