Mississippi State's upset of Texas A&M has Alabama's attention
Mississippi State pulled off one of the stunners of last weekend by upsetting then-No. 4 Texas A&M 35-28.
But that may have served as a wake-up call for Alabama, which hosts the Bulldogs at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala., at noon ET Saturday with ESPN cameras looking on.
At the very least, it gained the unranked Bulldogs (4-5, 2-3 SEC) some respect from the No. 1 Crimson Tide (9-0, 6-0 SEC).
“I think it does, definitely,” Tide cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. “I know Mississippi State's had a lot of close games that they've lost.
“To beat Texas A&M, that must mean they're doing something right. I think that actually might help our mindset, just to know that they're a pretty good team. They've got as many scholarships as we have, so they've got good players, too. You just can't take anybody lightly.”
In nearly every major statistical category, Mississippi State ranks sixth or lower in the SEC. But coach Dan Mullen's Bulldogs do field the No. 4 rushing offense in the league with an average of nearly 227 yards per game and 5.4 per carry.
Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald ran for 182 yards and two touchdowns in the win over the Aggies, and sophomore running back Aeris Williams rushed for a career-high 140 yards, his first career game in triple digits.
“Dan has done a great job there for a lot of years,” Alabama coach Nick Saban
said. “We've always had some really difficult games, and that will be our expectation in this game.”
Just for the record, 'Bama has won the last eight games in the series, with seven of the wins by double digits. The lone exception was two years ago in Tuscaloosa when the Tide beat the Bulldogs 25-20.
Alabama is the only SEC team Mullen has never beaten during his eight years with the Bulldogs, who have failed to score a touchdown during the first three quarters in their last three trips to Tuscaloosa.
“They're hard to simulate in practice because they've got guys on their bench that nobody else even has on their roster,” Mullen said. “You can't simulate the talent that they're putting out there on the field at practice.”
Both teams have new starters at quarterback this season.
Freshman Jalen Hurts took over in the second game of the season for Alabama and has passed for just over 187 yards a game and rushed for nearly 70. He scored the game's only touchdown in last week's 10-0 Tide win at LSU on a 21-yard scramble.
For Mississippi State, sophomore Fitzgerald has taken over for Dak Prescott (now starting for the Dallas Cowboys) and, just like his predecessor, is leading his team in rushing. Fitzgerald has rushed for an average of over 93 yards per game and completed passes at a 56.3 percent clip for another 189 yards per game.
“It's pretty obvious with their win over Texas A&M how good they are playing right now,” Saban said. “Their quarterback has played really well for them all year. He's kind of the center of what they do in terms of how much he runs the ball and his effectiveness as a runner, as well as being a very effective passer.”
The Bulldogs also have the SEC's leader in touchdown receptions in wide receiver Fred Ross, who has nine among his 54 catches for 641 yards.
“Fred Ross is a very good receiver and an outside threat that can create explosive plays for them,” Saban said.
Alabama also has outstanding receivers in Calvin Ridley, who has 46 receptions for 520 yards, and ArDarius Stewart, who has 31 for 527. Together they have nine touchdown receptions. Oh, and running backs Damien Harris, Josh Jacobs and Bo Scarbrough have combined to rush for 1,486 yards, an average of 165 a game.
“This is a big week, a huge challenge for our guys,” Mullen said. “They have the No. 1 offense and defense in the SEC. There are not a lot of weaknesses on their roster. They have guys that are sitting on the bench that would start for most teams in the country.
“You have to come out and play a very clean game.”