Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen dismisses any suggestion that this game will be about gaining respect nationally. "For our guys, to me, the respect issue comes down to our guys respect themselves, they respect each other,'' Mullen said. "And that's really the only respect you need in a football team. "What people outside our building say about us is their opinion. We have to worry about what we think about each other inside. And I think our guys have a lot of respect for the leaders on our team. And they respect how everybody on the team works, and they respect each other and they respect our program. So they give great effort in those regards because of those things, and that's really all that matters.''
We start off today with the Quarterback position: one that in recent years would have been a landslide in favor of Alabama, but may be closer to a draw this year with the emergence of Tyler Russell. Make no mistake though, A.J. McCarron is no slouch of a QB either. It's hard to discount a man who has a National Championship trophy, no matter if he was a game manager type QB for that season or if he was the centerpiece of a high flying passing offense. Those who doubt Russell's abilities should not discount what he has done this season either, however, as the two have, in 2012, put together outstanding seasons that have led both to undefeated starts a little more than halfway into the season. Let's take a look now at how they compare on paper.
Senior linebacker Nico Johnson said he understands Saban's message. And if he doesn't there's always the constant reminder of 2010. That season has served as the Monster In The Closet for the Alabama team: If you don't do what Saban says, this season will turn out like 2010 when you didn't win a championship. "This is my fourth year," Johnson said. "This is probably the first year that I have actually just focused on one team, every week, one opponent. Because going through the year in 2010, that's what we did. We looked on down the road and it bit us in the rear three times. "Right now, we're just looking at Mississippi State. They're a good team. We're not going to overlook them. All our focus is on them."
Tennessee wide receivers Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter combined for just five receptions for 95 yards against the University of Alabama Saturday. And on a night where the Crimson Tide pass rush generated no sacks and only two quarterback hurries, much of the credit for containing the Volunteers' dynamic pair of receivers goes to cornerbacks Dee Milliner and Deion Belue. Both were named by the UA coaching staff as defensive players of the week, along with safety Vinnie Sunseri. "His ability to be physical -- you can't get by him, you can't shake him," UA receiver Kevin Norwood said of Milliner. "He's very quick and explosive. He has an eye for the ball, too. When the ball is in the air it's usually his or no one else's."
Alabama (7-0, 4-0 in SEC) is ahead of the entire Football Bowl Subdivision in three major categories (total defense, scoring defense and run defense) and will be focusing on the SEC's leading rusher in MSU junior LaDarius Perkins being the third straight starting tailback to earn less than 90 yards in a game against the Crimson Tide. Perkins currently leads the conference and is 24th in the nation in rushing at 103.43 yards per game and is one of just two running backs in the Football Bowl Subdivision (along with San Diego State University's Adam Muema) with a rushing touchdown in every game this season. "Their running game is probably the best in the SEC so we're going to come in and try to make them one-dimensional the best we can," Alabama linebacker Nico Johnson said. In an interesting twist, Perkins laid out his goals for the Alabama game and had none of them include rushing totals but had more to do with blocking fundamentals for Bulldogs junior quarterback Tyler Russell. "We know the hard work we've put in during the offseason and summer camps have been to give us a chance to win games like this," Perkins said. "A major part of what we have to do as running backs Saturday is protect the ball and protect our quarterback."
With Michigan’s struggles and Arkansas’ implosion, No. 1 Alabama’s strength of schedule has been questioned as the team has yet to face a highly ranked opponent. Now, the Crimson Tide (7-0, 4-0 SEC) is entering the meat of its SEC run. Alabama has three consecutive ranked opponents on its schedule, with No. 11 Mississippi State being the first. The season has been a grind for the Tide, and it shows no signs of getting any easier. "At this time in the season, it’s like you are running a 100-meter race and you are getting down to about 70 meters with 30 meters to go and a lot of people are close, chomping right on your heels," head coach Nick Saban said. "You have to be able to finish the race."
"It all starts with player evaluation," he said. "Everybody talks about recruiting - going out and getting on the road and battling for these kids. I think that's one element of it. But I think the core issue of recruiting is the actual player evaluation side. It's not just about getting the best player; it's also about getting the right player. "You recruit to scheme, you recruit to philosophy, you recruit to identity," Luginbill said. "I think the investigation that goes into doing that to ensure that you make the right choices - not just on what type of player you're getting but what type of person you're getting - that plays hand-in-hand with success on the field. I think that's one of the reasons Alabama has elevated themselves to the stature they're at right now."
The perception of Saturday's game is MSU's in-depth player development against Alabama's ready-made talent. "I don't mean for this to be negative at all but MSU has to be able to project what a kid out of high school can be in the future," Jones said. "Everybody can project what (former Alabama running back and Heisman Trophy winner) Mark Ingram is going to turn into. Could anybody project what (MSU junior tailback and current SEC leader in rushing) LaDarius Perkins will be?" Over the last four years, MSU has had only one Top 20 recruiting class nationally according to Scout.com but has been able to able to produce 10 players currently in the National Football League. Only three of those 10 NFL players were four-star prospects coming out of high school. "You build your program on what you are," Mullen said. "We came here and our deal is we're going to develop players and we've had a lot of success doing it."
Amari Cooper isn't impressive just because of the numbers he's amassing. He should be commended on how many snaps he's playing at such a young age. Remember, because of DeAndrew White's season-ending knee injury, Cooper's backup is redshirt freshman Marvin Shinn. Shinn hasn't seen the field much this season.
The question was if he would show the Bulldogs any film of their 6-3 upset victory over the Crimson Tide in 1980 at Jackson, Miss. That ended Alabama's 28-game winning streak. The Tide had defeated the Bulldogs 22 consecutive times since a 25-13 loss in 1957. The answer: "I don't know if it would be motivating as much as laughing at the haircuts and uniforms sort of thing. It would more than funny than motivating."
Is there a philosophical difference between the two programs, where you take 2- or 3-star kids from Mississippi and develop them while Alabama has 4- or 5-star kids? "I guess. It's a product of your environment in some ways. They get top prospects around the country automatically. It's neat. I've been at some schools that, when you walk in if you have a certain logo on your shirt, you can go to Alaska and everyone wants to hear what you have to say. They have that there with the tradition they have. ... We came here and our deal is we're going to develop players and we've had a lot of success doing it. That's how we've kind of followed it. I look at their roster and they get a lot of great players, but give them credit. They do a good job developing their players, too, because there are a lot of guys who are four- or five-star type guys you never hear from again or end up being busts. Their guys are very successful, so it's a tribute to their staff. They do a good job developing players."
Exactly how good is Mississippi State? The Bulldogs are undefeated, ranked No. 11 in the BCS standings, and ranked in the top four in the conference in both scoring offense and scoring defense. LaDarius Perkins leads the SEC in rushing with 724 yards and Tyler Russell is fifth in passing with 1,573 to go with 15 touchdowns and only one interception. MSU cornerbacks Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay are tied with Tennessee's Byron Moore for the SEC lead in interceptions with four. But the toughest opponent the Bulldogs have faced this year is a Tennessee team that Alabama just whipped 44-13. MSU beat the Vols 41-31 two weeks ago and have also survived a close call at Troy (30-24).
Asked to explain while Alabama's defense continues to do what it does while the rest of college football has struggled to stop high-powered offenses, Saban was a bit stumped. - "The simple answer is, we have pretty good players that play well together and execute the scheme, and everybody does their job. That gives you the best opportunity to be successful. I don't know what else to say besides that. I can't really speak for everybody else. I don't get to see a lot of games. I don't really know what's happening, or what people's personnel are, or what people are trying to do. I really don't know what they have to defend and play against. But probably, a common denominator in all that is lots of mental errors, and lots of missed tackles. Those two things usually lead to a lot of bad stuff happening when you don't play good defense."
Alabama basketball began practice last week, preparing for another run at the NCAA Tournament after making it for the first time in six years last season. "We’ve been able to get at least part of our identity in terms of the guys understanding who we are and what we’re trying to accomplish," head coach Anthony Grant said Thursday. "I’m very excited about the group of young men that we have this year and the potential that we he have as a basketball team." But the team will have to do it with just 10 scholarship players, after some sudden departures in the offseason and a one-man recruiting class left Grant with a depleted roster.
Saban said he has a public speaking expert meet with the team before every season. Throughout the year, Alabama's football media relations staff, led by Jeff Purinton, prepares players to "represent themselves positively when they do get the opportunity to get interviewed." "We're not trying to hold them back from anything," Saban said. "We want to help them develop the skills necessary that they need to represent themselves in a first-class way. "I understand and I think it takes a little pressure off them when they don't have to talk to the media. Because they worry about it, especially if they're not prepared for it. It might not be true in all cases but I think in general, it probably helps their development and takes a little pressure off them."
So often in college football, the pregame hype focuses on the glamour positions of quarterback and running back or on the celebrated or hotly seated coaches. The buildup for the Nov. 3 contest between LSU and Alabama, though, is more likely to concern something more basic - the Crimson Tide's offensive line vs. the Tigers' defensive line, since both units are considered among the best, if not the best, in the nation. "It's already being billed that way," LSU defensive line coach Brick Haley told reporters tonight before speaking to the club. "We've been talking about that unit being the best in the country and all that. And I know that they've had comments about our front -- that they've been very good in the past and that they've played very well this year. "I'm sure that's going to be one of the selling points of the ballgame, that they're going to build up the battle of the lines: Us vs. Them."