Can the Tide stay focused on the road at Starkville?
Fresh off the big win against previously undefeated LSU, Alabama is once again the toast of the SEC and cruising its way to Atlanta to take on Florida for the right to play for the conference championship. Before the Tide are anointed as West champs, a road trip to Starkville remains against a sneaky 7-2 Mississippi State team eager to avenge last season’s loss.
Nick Saban opened his Monday introductory press conference alluding to the dangers of suffering a letdown performance after such a big win.
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"Any time you have an emotional win you have to get your team ready to respond the right way and make sure they’re focused on what they need to do just as well the next week – or better – against a very good Mississippi State team that’s ranked and is a very, very good team,” Saban said.
Do the Bulldogs realistically stand a chance at tripping up arguably the hottest team in the nation in StarkVegas? If you listen to the Bulldogs’ head coach Dan Mullen, State doesn’t stand a chance of matching up with the Tide.
“They are the best team in America,” Mullen said Monday. “They got five-star players across the board. I’m sure they got more five-star players sitting on their bench that can’t get a rep… I can guarantee you, more than we have on our entire roster.
“The best defense in America. No. 1 rushing defense in the league, No. 1 total defense, tops in the nation in a lot of different categories. It’s going to be a huge challenge for us.”
The task at hand does indeed appear quite daunting for Mississippi State, however having the best quarterback in the SEC can certainly make up for any deficiencies on its roster. Senior Dak Prescott has quietly had one of the most outstanding seasons of any player in the nation: career-high 66 percent completion percentage to go along with an 18-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio, not to mention 418 yards on the ground and seven additional rushing touchdowns.
The only comparable quarterback Alabama’s defense has faced was Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly, who led the Rebels to the 43-37 upset over the Tide. Saban acknowledged the progressions of Prescott’s game make him a tremendous challenge moving forward.
“He was a really good player last year… I think he continues to improve as a passer, I think his passing efficiency, looking off people, doing the little things in the passing game that really make a difference,” Saban remarked. “He’s got really good skill guys outside that have made a lot of big plays and he can hurt you running the ball.”
State only lost by five to the Tide in Tuscaloosa last season, something not lost on Prescott.
"Losing by five right there at the end of the game," Prescott said at SEC Media Days in July. "Another minute or another drive on offense and I think we win that game."
Playing in front of a raucous home crowd ringing their cowbells could be the difference this season – State is 12-1 in its last 13 inside Davis Wade Stadium. Win this game and the Bulldogs SEC hopes are still very much alive.
Battle for the Golden Boot featuring teams on opposite sides of the spectrum
LSU faces a realistic threat of letting Alabama beat it twice as a promising season can quickly turn into a nightmare if the Tigers lose back-to-back games.
“We didn’t play our best. Our players and coaches know it,” LSU head coach Les Miles said Monday. “Credit Alabama, they played very well. It’s a 48 hour window and we’re going to watch that thing today and kind of put it behind us and go from there.”
As a dangerous Arkansas team comes to Death Valley Saturday night, the hostile crowd should not faze the Razorbacks, as Bret Bielema’s team has already won at Tennessee and are fresh off the big win in Oxford.
Arkansas has rebounded from a bad start to win four of its last five ballgames and may be playing with as much confidence as any team in the league. Having blanked LSU 17-0 a season ago, the Hogs know what it takes to beat the Tigers.
The Hogs senior leader, quarterback Brandon Allen, is playing the best football of his life having thrown for 940 yards, 11 touchdowns and only one interception over the last three weeks. Considering LSU currently has the ninth-ranked passing defense in the SEC, if Allen stays hot he may prove to be too much for the limping Tigers.
“This team, we have a lot of fight in us we really do, we go into every game looking to win,” Allen said after the Ole Miss game. “No matter the opponent, no matter who is on the other sideline, we have the belief we can beat any team.”
Quick Hits: With his four touchdowns against Missouri, Dak Prescott became the sixth SEC player to accumulate 100 career touchdowns… Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops expressed concern Monday that for the first time this season, his players did not believe they could win against their opponent (at Georgia)… Alabama running back Derrick Henry (3-2) has jumped Leonard Fournette (2-1)as the SEC’s best bet to win the Heisman Trophy
Michael Wayne Bratton covers the SEC for FOX Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @MichaelWBratton