Alabama-Mississippi St. Preview
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP)
Alabama's Nick Saban doesn't want his players to be in a celebratory mood this week after they impressively passed one of their final tests toward an undefeated regular season.
It also might be difficult to convince his team that it'll get much of a challenge from Mississippi State.
The top-ranked Crimson Tide haven't allowed more than 10 points during their five-game winning streak against the Bulldogs, a dominant string they'll look to continue Saturday night in Starkville.
Alabama (9-0, 6-0 SEC) has three games left between it and its first perfect regular season since 2009, but Saban isn't looking for his players to be relieved after last week's 38-17 win over then-No. 10 LSU.
He'd prefer they focus on what it felt like to physically dominate in a second half in which the Crimson Tide outscored the Tigers 21-0 over the final 27 minutes.
"You cannot take things for granted," Saban said Monday. "There can't be any kind of relief syndrome that, `We got by that game.' I think the most important thing - and I think this last game sort of 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. Not a team playing with a lot of anxiety that's worried about making mistakes and errors. We made a lot of mental errors in the first half of the game.
"You've got to be aggressive and you've got to play to win. You can't play to keep from getting beat."
And you can't let the hangover from a big win help get you beat the next week.
Alabama started horribly against Texas A&M following a last-minute victory over the Tigers last season, and suffered their only loss. Now, the Tide visits Mississippi State (4-5, 1-4) trying to keep from being afflicted by that "relief syndrome."
Saban reminded his players of what happened post-LSU last season in the locker room. He reiterated his 24-hour celebration rule also, which gives players a day to savor the win before moving on.
Receiver Kevin Norwood said the Tide just want to keep it going now that one more major hurdle is cleared. He concedes that some of the tension is eased now that the LSU game is out of the way.
"I think everybody's just more, I guess, relaxed after that game," Norwood said. "But at the same time, everybody knows that we must continue to keep this momentum going so we can build for the next game and the next game and the next game after that. I don't think anybody's just relieved. I don't think anybody's satisfied. Everybody's still hungry, everybody wants to go out and compete."
Saban said after the game Alabama finished with its best half of the season against LSU. The Tide outgained LSU 219-67 after halftime and held the Tigers to minus-9 yards in the fourth quarter while scoring two touchdowns.
The result was a seventh-consecutive win by 20-plus points.
Now, Alabama is a 25-point favorite over the Bulldogs and then hosts FCS team Chattanooga before traveling to No. 7 Auburn in the biggest remaining regular season challenge.
If the Tide can win those three and the SEC title game, a shot at a third consecutive national title awaits.
That's the kind of look-ahead scenario Alabama has been pretty good at avoiding under Saban. Looking back isn't much better.
"We're not going to get caught up in this one win," quarterback AJ McCarron said. "It happened to us last year, so we'll be ready to go."
The Tide have been more than ready in their past five meetings against the Bulldogs. Alabama has outscored Mississippi State 155-34 in that stretch, allowing an average of 213.2 yards.
The Bulldogs have scored a total of three points in the first three quarters over the last four contests.
Alabama will be the sixth opponent Mississippi State has faced that's currently among the top 18 in the AP poll, and the results haven't been favorable. The Bulldogs have lost the first five by an average of 16.6 points.
They've given up 85 points the last two weeks in losses to SEC heavyweights South Carolina and Texas A&M. Five turnovers doomed Mississippi State against the Gamecocks before it allowed 446 passing yards against the Aggies.
But the Bulldogs hung around against Texas A&M, scoring 21 points in the fourth quarter of a 51-41 loss, and coach Dan Mullen thinks that helped his team's psyche heading into its matchup against Alabama.
"I'll be honest with you. Earlier in the season we played LSU and fell behind by a couple of scores in the fourth quarter. I think doubt crept in our guys' minds," Mullen said. "They may have thought, 'I don't know, maybe we can't make a comeback.'
"We've erased that doubt. I think you have seen that over the last several weeks with making stops in the fourth quarter on defense. And then the thought becomes, 'Hey, we've fallen behind. That's OK.'"