TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Now that the pressure to clinch the SEC West is in the past, Alabama’s battle with complacency begins tonight.
No, the trip to Mississippi State can’t take away the third-ranked Crimson Tide’s seat at the SEC championship game.
But a letdown against the upstart Bulldogs can derail the momentum it built by winning the first nine games of the season.
The veteran Tide players know better than to dismiss Mississippi State (4-5, 2-3 SEC) when noting the rivalry’s recent history. Losses in two of the past three meetings before last season’s win in Tuscaloosa has everyone on alert.
A closer look at Mississippi State’s five losses this year reveals four that came to ranked opponents, and all of them were competitive games. That includes a 29-19 loss to Florida that was tight throughout and a 30-26 setback to LSU, which needed a goal-line stand in the closing moments to survive first-year coach Dan Mullen’s Bulldogs.
Both games were played in Starkville, where a record crowd is expected to see today’s game, with temporary seating being added.
Coming off the high of beating LSU last week to secure the SEC West Division title has been a challenge, linebacker, Cory Reamer said.
“They’re a team that probably doesn’t get the respect they deserve around the SEC, because they had a couple down years,” Reamer said. “But they’ve turned it around. They always come in and are very physical, and they always want to upset everybody they play against. And you’ve seen during the season, they’ve put up points on good teams.
“You never can sleep on these guys, because they are just as good as anyone in this league. They can beat you at any time, and they can come in and ruin our season.”
The Bulldogs couldn’t have come any closer to stunning then-No. 7 LSU when it came to Scott Field on Sept. 26. Mississippi State had first-and-goal from the 2-yard line with just over a minute to play, but an incomplete pass and three rushes that netted just 1 yard kept Mullen from recording his first landmark victory at the program he is set on reviving.
A win over the third-ranked Tide would do just that.
“Anytime you get a chance to play what I view is the co-No. 1 team in the country, it’s a great opportunity for your program,” said Mullen who coached at Florida as the offensive coordinator before leaving for Starkville this season.
Through nine games, the Bulldogs haven’t been overpowering statistically. Their rushing attack, led by Anthony Dixon, ranks third in the SEC and 12th nationally with an average of 219 yards per game. But they rank in the bottom half of the league in every other major category.
Countering that rushing attack that accounts for 65 percent of the Bulldogs’ plays this season will be the Alabama rush defense that ranks second nationally and first in the SEC by surrendering just 68 yards on the ground per game.
“They’re a pretty tough team,” Tide nose guard Terrence Cody said. “They put their mind to running the ball, and they run it at you as many times as they can until they find success.”