The early kickoff will be Alabama's first this year. Shula said, "College kids like to sleep in. We'll emphasize the early kickoff time. We'll have earlier curfew Friday and we'll get them up early Saturday and get their motors started earlier."
Alabama is 6-3 overall and 1-3 in SEC games. Mississippi State is 2-7 overall and 0-5 in league contests. The Tide is coming off a 38-3 win over Florida International. The Bulldogs have lost tough back-to-back games, including 34-31 to Kentucky in Starkville last week. Bama has a current five-game winning streak over the Bulldogs. The Crimson Tide leads the all-time series against Mississippi State by 72-15-3.
The contest has former Alabama players as opposing head coaches. Mike Shula is in his fourth season as head coach at Alabama. He finished his Alabama quarterback career in 1986. Sylvester Croom finished his Bama playing career as an All-America center in 1974. He was an assistant coach for the Tide through Shula's final season. Both Shula and Croom had long careers as NFL assistants and they were finalists for the job as Alabama head football coach in 2003.
This will be the 27th time Alabama has been in games in which former Crimson Tide players were head coaches of both teams. Alabama has a 21-5 record in previous games. Paul Bryant was 15-1 in wuch games, Ray Perkins 1-0, Mike DuBose 2-4, and Mike Shula 3-0. (Some comparisons also include a 3-1 record against David Cutcliffe when he was head coach at Ole Miss. Cutcliffe is a graduate of Alabama, but was not a football player.)
Shula said a number of factors make the Alabama-Mississippi State game very competitive. "The proximity of the two schools," he said. Tuscaloosa and Starkville are about 90 miles apart, the two closest schools in the SEC. "The players know it's a big game," Shula said. "It's an SEC game. We're home defending our turf. Our coaches know and respect their coaches.They have a lot of players from Alabama and we have quite a few from Mississippi, so the kids know each other. It's going to be a physical football game."
As expected, Shula was complimentary of Mississippi State. "They're productive," he said. "They're fast and physical. This was a very physical game last year. They've had some injuries on offense like us–maybe even more so than us. We've got to play a very solid football game to give ourselves a chance."
Last year against State and last week against Florida International, Alabama got scoring help from both the defense and special teams. Shula said that kind of scoring help would be helpful again Saturday.
Shula said, "We've got some guys beat up, but thinking positively, all of them are going to be able to play." The injury list includes quarterback John Parker Wilson, wide receiver Keith Brown, running backs Jimmy Johns and Kenneth Darby, center Antoine Caldwell, return specialist Javier Arenas, and offensive guard B.J. Stabler, Brown has missed the last two games and Stabler was held out of last week's game.
Brown, who has been out with a knee injury, "feels much better than he did this time last week," Shula said. "One of the things we've got to do a better job of offensively as a team is other guys step up; everyone else has got to step up and not let the production slide just because one guy is out of the lineup."
Shula said that Mississippi State quarterback Michael Henig of Montgomery "made some big plays in last week's game (when he passed for a career-high 22-41 for 384 yards and three touchdowns). From last year to this year he's a totally different guy. His arm is stronger and he's more accurate and has more confidence. He's doing a good job of finding some good receivers. improved. Doing a good job of finding some good receivers. They're playing with a lot of confidence, probably as much as we've seen in the past few years, in the passing game right now.
"They're hot and they're throwing the ball pretty well so we've got to make sure we do a good job in the passing game. The worst thing we can do is not play the run. We've got to make sure we take care of the run and get them in long yardage. They've improved on third down passing. We need to know where their receivers are."
Shula sees some good things in Alabama's offense. "We've moved the ball well," he said. "We just haven't had some touchdowns. We've made a lot of first downs, we've made a lot of trips into the red zone. We just haven't quite got the ball in the end zone."
He noted that Alabama hasn't always had a fast start in games. "If that's the only thing you talk about all week and you don't have a fast start, it's kind of a letdown. When we haven't started fast we haven't let that bother us and we continue to play hard. Our defense is a great example of that. For six games we've done that well enough and for three we haven't."
Shula was asked about the importance of momentum. "It changes every week," he said. "It changes every quarter; it seems it changes every play. You build on momentum. I think our defense is good at that. Our offense is not as good at that."
Shula said, "We want to be better on offense, and I think we will be."