(AP) — Nick Saban believes Alabama faces a unique challenge with a visit to SEC-newcomer Missouri on Saturday.
The test seems far greater for the Tigers, however, as they face the nation’s No. 1 defense without their starting quarterback.
In their first trip to Faurot Field in 34 years, the top-ranked Crimson Tide try to frustrate redshirt freshman Corbin Berkstresser and prevent Missouri from picking up its first SEC victory.
The Tigers (3-3, 0-3) squandered a golden opportunity to notch their first SEC win last Saturday by falling 19-15 at home to perennial conference doormat Vanderbilt.
“This year, there’s so much hype being in the SEC, and you’ve got all the outside voices telling you that you (stink) and you’re not worthy,” Missouri offensive tackle Elvis Fisher said.
“We know what we do here. We work our butts off. And then it’s devastating to go out there and not put on your best performance.”
Winning this week seems far less likely considering the Tigers are 0-12 all-time against top-ranked teams. This includes a 38-20 home loss to Alabama in 1978 – the last meeting between these programs.
Despite Missouri’s struggles against No. 1 teams, the unknown of what to expect at Faurot Field concerns Saban.
“We are playing in a place where no one in our team meeting has ever been before, including me,” he said. “Our team needs to be ready to play their best against what I would say is a very good football team.”
Although Saban remains cautious, Alabama (5-0, 2-0) should have a major advantage when Missouri has the ball.
Berkstresser was pressed into the starter’s role after James Franklin sprained his left knee in the first quarter of the Vanderbilt game. Berkstresser did little to impress, completing just 9 of 30 passes for 189 yards, with 85 of those coming on a scoring toss to Bud Sasser on an overthrown pass meant for a teammate.
“He’ll learn from it and get better,” said coach Gary Pinkel, a teammate of Saban’s at Kent State. “When you throw a redshirt freshman out there, it’s tough.”
Berkstresser could have an even tougher time against an Alabama team that ranks first in the FBS in both scoring defense (7.0 points per game) and total defense (191.6 yards), and is tied for the SEC lead with nine interceptions.
The Tigers will also be without starting center Mitch Morse, who, like Franklin, injured a medial collateral ligament in his knee. Missouri’s already battered offensive line relies on three sophomores, three redshirt freshmen and a true freshman in its rotation.
The line will have its hands full trying to stop a defense led by linebackers C.J. Mosley and Adrian Hubbard and end Damion Square. In their 33-14 win over Mississippi on Sept. 29, the Crimson Tide finished with a season-high five sacks, bringing their total up to 16.
Alabama, which is coming off a bye week, lost backup running back Dee Hart and wide receiver DeAndrew White to season-ending injuries against the Rebels, but seems to have enough other weapons on offense.
Junior Eddie Lacy has a team-high 314 rushing yards, while freshman T.J. Yeldon has run for 292 yards.
Amari Cooper, meanwhile, is AJ McCarron’s top target, catching 17 passes for 222 yards and three touchdowns.
McCarron has thrown for 999 yards with 12 touchdowns and zero interceptions, one of four FBS quarterbacks to have attempted 100 passes without an INT.
“As an offense, if we get the ball first we just have to come out and strike hard,” said Kevin Norwood, who is second on the team with 179 receiving yards. “We need to keep striking until they quit. As an offense we have to move the ball.”