Alabama hosts the Bulldogs in Bryant-Denny Stadium at 11:30 a.m. CST Saturday with regional television coverage by Jefferson Pilot. Bama has lost three consecutive games and is now 3-5 overall and 2-4 in Southeastern Conference games. Mississippi State, coached by former Alabama player Jackie Sherrill, broke a five-game losing streak last weekend with a come-from-behind 17-14 win over Kentucky. The Bulldogs are 2-5 overall and 1-4 in SEC games.
Franchione said that preparation for State "requires a little more work on offense because of Joe Lee's (Defensive Coordinator Joe Lee Dunn) schemes, which rely on pressure more than most teams. They have a good defensive style and good players.." Franchione noted that Dunn and Gary Patterson, Franchione's defensive coordinator (and successor) at TCU, had compared notes over the years and had some similarities.
On defense, Alabama will have to be ready for two quarterbacks, both of whom have the respect of Franchione. Senior Wayne Madkin has been Mississippi State's most productive quarterback ever in terms of victories, but in last week's win over Kentucky sophomore Kevin Fant was the comeback quarterback. Franchione said he had a great deal of respect for Madkin. "When he gets going, he is really good," Franchione said. "He's an excellent athlete." He said that Fant brings a little different tempo and a little different chemistry to the offense and called Fant "a play-maker." Franchione said he didn't know which one would start, although he expects it to be Madkin, but said he thought both would play against Bama.
As for the Alabama quarterback situation, Franchione said Alabama would go into the State game with the same philosophy for the two-minute offense as it had against LSU last week. Alabama is working with both starter Tyler Watts and back-up Andrew Zow in what Alabama calls its "Mayday" offense. Last week Zow got the call, but Alabama did not get any production in the two-minute drill.
Last week Bama's Kenny King made some outstanding defensive plays, some of them coming when he was playing end rather than tackle. Franchione said it was possible that King would have duty at end again this week. Part of that will depend on how much end Kindal Moorehead plays. Moorehead, who missed last week with a strained knee ligament, "practiced well" Franchione said.
Franchione agreed that Alabama was slightly undersized at defensive tackle when playing with King and Jarret Johnson. "We have to rely on quickness to some extent," the coach said. He said that a problem in pass defense is that the opposing offense uses either a quick drop or spread (shotgun) formation, which leaves little time for a pass rush. "You have to decide, ‘Can we get there?' and if not we have to cover."
Bama was out for about two hours in crisp weather in helmets, shoulder pads and shorts. "It was a good day," Franchione said. "We had energy and enthusiasm. The kids looked good. We were a little rough around the edges, but we'll watch the film and clean that up."
Franchione is not prepared to make any pronouncements regarding strongside tackle, where Dante Ellington has worked his way back into a competitive situation with Evan Mathis, who took the job earlier this year. The Tide coach said both would play and noted that Mathis is also continuing to work as a back-up to center Alonzo Ephraim.
Franchione said he knows State Coach Jackie Sherrill well, but has never coached against him. "I suspect Jackie gets them ready to play Alabama," he said. He also said that he expected Mississippi State to have something positive from its win last week. "They had an open week and then they had a ‘W,' " Franchione said. "And don't forget, a lot of people picked them to win the West."
One amusing moment in Franchione's post-practice press briefing came after a reporter noted that Mississippi State had won four of the past five games against Alabama. Franchione said he knew that Mississippi State had had some good teams in recent years. Another reporter (Cecil Hurt of the Tuscaloosa News) pointed out that while Mississippi State had won four of the last five, the Bulldogs had come out on top in only "five of the last 43." Alabama has an all-time record of 67-15-3 against Mississippi State.