Alabama turns focus to struggling Mississippi State

Alabama turns focus to struggling Mississippi State

November 12th, 2013 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott (15), here being tackled by South Carolina linebacker Marcquis Roberts on Nov. 2, is the Bulldogs' leader but may not be able to play Saturday when they take on top-ranked Alabama.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

TIDE, TAKE THREE

Three tidbits regarding top-ranked Alabama entering Saturday night's game at Mississippi State:

• 1. Senior quarterback AJ McCarron has thrown 123 consecutive passes without an interception. McCarron set the school record last season at 291 and had a streak of 152 as a sophomore in 2011.

• 2. In the next two weeks, Alabama will face teams whose quarterbacks -- Mississippi State's Dak Prescott (722 yards) and UTC's Jacob Huesman (896) -- are their leading rushers.

• 3. Junior right tackle Austin Shepherd may be the most unheralded member of Alabama's offensive line, but he graded out at 90 percent against LSU and did not allow a quarterback pressure.

After defeating its most competitive rival in recent seasons, Alabama is turning to an annual foe that has provided little trouble.

The top-ranked Crimson Tide, fresh off Saturday night's 38-17 dispatching of LSU at Bryant-Denny Stadium, will travel to Mississippi State this week in a game that will be televised by ESPN at 7:45 p.m. EST. Alabama has played more games (97) and has won more games (75) against Mississippi State than any other program, and the Crimson Tide have rolled through the past five games in the series by a combined score of 155-34.

"I think the biggest thing is that the players have to embrace the next challenge of what they need to do to play well," Alabama coach Nick Saban said Monday at his weekly news conference. "You cannot take things for granted, and there can't be any kind of relief syndrome of 'Well, we got by that game.' This last game showed that the team we want to be is the team we were in the second half -- an aggressive team that's trying to control the line of scrimmage.

"This is certainly not the time to say, 'Wow, we just got over a big game. We ought to be entitled to a little rest time this week.' With every game you win, the next challenge becomes more important, and this certainly will be no different."

Mississippi State was 7-0 and ranked No. 13 nationally last season when the Bulldogs ventured to Tuscaloosa and were thumped 38-7. That started the Bulldogs spiraling to a 1-5 finish, and they are 4-5 this season with wins over Alcorn State, Troy, Bowling Green and Kentucky.

"They're winning their games by an average of 31 points, so we'll have our hands full," MSU coach Dan Mullen said Monday at his weekly media session.

Mullen is 33-27 nearing the end of his fifth season in Starkville, and he's hoping to take the Bulldogs to what would be a record fourth consecutive bowl. In order to do that, Mississippi State must take two of three against Alabama, Arkansas and top rival Ole Miss.

Saban said the Bulldogs are much better than their record indicates, that all five losses have come to teams currently in the top 20 (Oklahoma State, Auburn, LSU, South Carolina and Texas A&M).

"They have played very competitively in every one of those games," Saban said. "This team can run the ball and keep the ball. Their time of possession is good."

MSU's leading rusher is sophomore quarterback Dak Prescott, who has 722 yards on 111 carries. Prescott suffered a shoulder stinger in this past Saturday's 51-41 loss at Texas A&M, however, and Mullen said he would know more Wednesday about Prescott's availability Saturday.

If Prescott is unable to play, Mullen will turn to former starter Tyler Russell, who has not been as effective by comparison in red-zone opportunities.

"When you're in the red zone and there are more players in the box, the quarterback run game and the quarterback run threat become a little bit more valuable for you," Mullen said. "In red-zone situations, defenses don't need a guy in the middle of the field, because there is no middle of the field for the guy to cover. The thing is, Tyler has done a decent job of running the ball at times this year.

"He's a very different style of runner, but he's capable."

Tide tidbits

Junior tailback Jalston Fowler has five receptions this season with a long of 5 yards, but four of his catches have been for touchdowns. ... Saban on whether freshman tight end O.J. Howard's speed shocked him on the 52-yard touchdown reception against LSU: "I get surprised all the time, but O.J. is very athletic and has really good speed. I thought it was a fantastic play on his part, and I would like to get surprised some more." ... Senior linebacker C.J. Mosley was named SEC defensive player of the week after his 12 tackles against the Tigers. ... Saban was pleased with the play of sophomore cornerback Cyrus Jones, who has started the past two games, but said he would continue to be in competition with fellow sophomore Bradley Sylve.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.