Alabama, 5-3 overall and 2-3 in Southeastern Conference play, gets back into action Saturday hosting Coach Sylvester Croom's Mississippi State Bulldogs (3-5, 2-3) at 5:30 p.m. CST Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The game will be telecast on the cable network ESPN2.
Mississippi State is coming off back-to-back SEC wins. After upsetting Florida October 23, the Bulldogs crushed Kentucky, 22-7. And State had an even bigger victory in between those contests when the NCAA Infractions Committee basically gave the school a pass on its violations.
This week's game has some drama for Alabama. Bama needs one victory to qualify for a bowl game after having missed two years of bowl eligibility at the hands of the NCAA Infractions Committee.
There will also be inevitable comparisons of Alabama having hired Mike Shula to be its head foootball coach in May, 2003. Croom–like Shula, an Alabama alumnus–had been a finalist for the position.
Alabama goes into the game missing its starting offensive backfield from the beginning of the season. Lost to knee injuries are quarterback Brodie Croyle in the third game, tailback Ray Hudson in the sixth game, and fullback (and back-up halfback) Tim Castille in Alabama's last outing, a 17-13 loss at Tennessee.
But a handful of Tiders playing with minor injuries got needed recuperation time in the open week. Offensive linemen, linebackers, and secondary players who have had little rest during games were given some rest during the open week. While it was time off for those players who needed a break, it was an opportunity for those players who have seen little or no game action to get repeititions on Alabama schemes with Alabama's coaching staff. Those players getting work included those being redshirted and performing on scout teams, as well as some second team players who have had limited game action.
It was also a time or review and preview. Shula pointed out that a team must scout itself, looking at its tendancies and at what has been good, what needs work. By way of preview, the Tide got a little head start on preparation for Mississippi State. Although in a normal week the first introduction of the upcoming opponent comes on Sunday, Alabama players were given a look at the Bulldogs during the open week. As a result, the Sunday evening practice was considered like a Tuesday practice, when the playbook for the upcoming game is ordinarily installed.
When Croyle was injured, sophomore Marc Guillon moved up to number one quarterback. Guillon has since suffered a back ailment (two bulging discs) and has been limited in practice and has not played in the last three games. He was held out of work during the past week, although Shula said "He's throwing decently. He could have played if necessary." Guillon was to get back to work Sunday, but Spencer Pennington–who originally committed to Mississippi State out of Fayette County High School–will be the starting quarterback for Alabama.
While Mississippi State's recent success against Florida and Kentucky is naturally highlighted, the Bulldogs have had some lowlights, as well. The Bulldogs and Bama have only one common opponent this year (Alabama defeated Kentucky 45-17). Other Mississippi State games include home losses to the likes of Division II Maine and Alabama-Birmingham, a 31-13 loss to Vanderbilt, and blowout losses at the hands of Auburn (43-14) and LSU (51-0).
Alabama has also played a weak schedule. Two of Bama's five games have come against the other Division IA teams in the state of Mississippi, a 28-7 win over Ole Miss and a 27-3 win over nationally-ranked Southern Miss.