MSU looking for signature win vs No. 4 Alabama

BY foxsports • November 11, 2011

Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen has a simple plan to beat No. 4 Alabama on Saturday. The problem is executing it.

''You have to play a flawless game to beat them,'' Mullen said.

The Bulldogs haven't had many perfect moments this season, much less entire games, and that's led to a disappointing season. But three wins during the past four games - albeit against Kentucky, Tennessee Martin and Alabama-Birmingham - have Mississippi State (5-4, 1-4 SEC) hopeful of pulling off the upset when Alabama (8-1, 5-1) comes to Davis Wade Stadium on Saturday.

Alabama has won eight out of past 10 in the series, including the past three years.

Mullen is still trying to break through with a signature victory against a Western Division opponent. In his third season, Mullen is just 2-10 against the West, with both of those victories coming against rival Ole Miss.

Beating the Tide would certainly qualify as a big win. Alabama's won the past two meetings by a combined score of 61-13.

''The last two years we've played OK against them,'' Mullen said. ''And then we'll make some critical errors. When you make critical errors against great teams you put yourself in a lot of trouble.''

Mississippi State could be catching Alabama at a good time. The Tide lost an emotional 9-6 home loss to No. 1 LSU last Saturday in Tuscaloosa, and the Bulldogs are hoping they can catch Alabama feeling sorry for itself.

But Alabama defensive lineman Josh Chapman insists that won't be the case. The Tide still have an outside shot at playing for the national title, but can't afford any more mistakes.

''They're a great team,'' Chapman said. ''Those guys are physical. One thing I see about our guys is you don't see a lot of heads down, hang-dogging around. Those guys see that we've got the Bulldogs to go against. Let's go out and finish this thing strong.''

To make things close, Mississippi State will have to find a way to stop Alabama running back Trent Richardson, who's leading the SEC with 1,078 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns.

Richardson's powerful 5-foot-11, 220-pound frame has proven a load to bring down throughout the season, but Mississippi State defensive end Sean Ferguson said he isn't worried about the name on the back of the jersey. The Bulldogs' defense has been one of the best in the SEC this season, giving up less than 19 points per game.

''We study our opponents, but at the end of the day everybody's just Xs and Os,'' Ferguson said. ''I've just got to make sure my technique is its good as can be. We've got a gameplan. We know they like to run the ball, so we really just want to control where they want to run.''

Mississippi State's offense has improved over the past month as well. After weeks of quarterback controversy, Mullen has settled on a rotation with senior Chris Relf and sophomore Tyler Russell. Mullen will switch quarterbacks on different possessions and sometimes even on different plays during the same possession.

Relf is the better runner while Russell is the more accomplished passer. Alabama coach Nick Saban said it's a unique situation when working on defensive preparation.

That's another reason why he's stressed that his players need to put the LSU loss behind them.

''What our players need to be focused on is the fact that we have a lot of football left to play,'' Saban said. ''It's most important to us to play the best football that we can play and take care of what we can take care of. That's the one thing that we can control, and that's what I've tried to emphasize to our players so that they respond the right way when they play this week.''

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Follow David Brandt on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP


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