Will This Be A Rout?

I'm of two minds as regards Alabama's home game against Mississippi State tomorrow.

One half of my brain believes this is the elixir game for an Alabama offense that has not had an A-game all year.

I'm talking about a five-touchdown kind of performance, like that 38-0 game in Starkville a few years back. The kind of game where John Parker Wilson can start resting that ankle again early in the third quarter. Where defensive linemen like Lorenzo Washington and Brandon Deaderick and Byron Walton and Brandon Fanney can get the kind of game reps that will truly begin paying off next year.

A rout that would give Bama fans a nice long glimpse at the future of the defensive backfield, with guys like Justin Woodall, Marquis Johnson, Chris Rogers, Sam Burnthall and Javier Arenas running around making plays.

A game that would let Ali Sharrief continue to show that he's a quality runner and a great alternative next year, even with Glen Coffee and Roy Upchurch back and healthy in competition with Jimmy Johns and Sharrief.

Then there's that other scenario. The axiom that says Alabama at home in 2006 is a white-knuckle, fourth-quarter struggle waiting to happen.

Linebacker Terrence Jones made a humorous comment the other day when someone asked him if Mississippi State was the kind of team the Crimson Tide might overlook.

"We can't overlook nobody,'' Jones said. "As you already know from games earlier in the year, no matter who our opponent is, it's a good idea for us to prepare well, get a good feel for them and play well.''

Translation: Are you kidding? Duke led us at halftime.

Of all the outfits that have traipsed into Bryant-Denny this year, none has been ravaged by injuries quite like this third edition of Sylvester Croom's Bullies. Mississippi State 2006 is Alabama 2004, slammed with debilitating injuries but with less natural talent.

Quarterback Michael Henig, back as the starter after breaking his collarbone in the first half of the season opener, missed two practices with a thigh bruise this week before returning on Wednesday. His best big-play target -- receiver Tony Burks -- missed plenty of practice time this week to mend a chronic hamstring injury. Starting tailback Anthony Dixon suffered a stinger to his right shoulder on a late touchdown run in State's 34-31 loss to Kentucky last week.

Those three are the "healthy'' ones.

Tailbacks Arnil Stallworth and Brandon Thornton are out, as is fullback Bryson Davis and quarterback Tray Rutland.

Croom hoped to have quarterback/receiver Omarr Conner (groin) back in some capacity this week, but that's a questionable proposition now. Receiver Will Prosser, who had been in decent health, hurt himself moving furniture this week, so his availability is in doubt.

"If I were a younger coach, it would be a lot more frustrating, but now, after all the years I've been here, I just know you've got to adapt,'' State Offensive Coordinator Woody McCorvey, the former Bama assistant, told the Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Mississippi.

The Bulldogs have adapted by taking it to the air. Henig has passed for career highs the past two weeks, including 384 yards against Kentucky. State is averaging 267 passing yards per game since Henig's return.

After being shut out in its first two games this season, State's scoring average of 30 points per game the last three weeks looks positively Louisville-like.

Still, we're talking about a program that has not won an SEC road game since Jackie Sherrill's 2000 team thumped Kentucky 35-17 in Lexington on Nov. 4, 2000. The road losing skid in conference play is at 23 games.

For its 24th straight SEC road loss, how about a fat 24-point differential: Alabama 34, State 10.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Thomas Murphy, the Alabama beat writer for the Mobile Register, is a contributor to 'BAMA Magazine and BamaMag.com

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