Despite being underdogs last week against then-No. 4 Texas A&M, Mississippi State liked its chances.
The Bulldogs will have that same thought Saturday marching into Tuscaloosa to face No. 1 Alabama (9-0 overall, 6-0 SEC).
MSU coach Dan Mullen knows where his team stands in comparison.
“They have guys that are probably redshirting and sitting the bench that would start for most teams in the country,” Mullen said. “We’ve got to come out and play a very clean game. They don’t make a lot of mistakes and execute at a high level.”
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The margin of error in the Bulldogs’ final three games is slim, but there’s still a solid chance that MSU (4-5, 2-3) can make a bowl game. A win over the defending national champions would go a long way.
The problem: Alabama has won 78 of 99 games in the series and Mullen has never beaten Alabama. Mullen’s record against the Crimson Tide is 0-7.
The Tide enters with the best defense under coach Nick Saban.
Alabama’s defense has scored an amazing nine touchdowns — four on interception returns and five on fumble returns.
Does Mullen give quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson more of the offensive calls? It worked a week ago with the Aggies when MSU rang up more than 550 yards in total offense while upsetting Texas A&M 35-28 in Starkville.
“He was in a great rhythm so you don’t want to mess that up,” Mullen said. “He’s upstairs and you’re not feeling the emotion on the field. I think you have to have great report back and forth and we’re fortunate to have that.”
MSU’s defense also has its work cut out. Alabama’s offense has become more balanced since coordinator Lane Kiffin took over in 2014.
Quarterback Jalen Hurts is having a special freshman season. MSU knows all about Hurts, recruiting him a year ago. Hurts has 2,230 yards in total offense and 22 touchdowns.
“He does a good job of pushing the ball down the field and really utilizing the speed they have on the outside,” MSU defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon said. “In the red zone, he’s really good with the ball in his hands running the football. I think he has 10 rush touchdowns so they do a good job designing some things and he gets to the pylon.”
With the threat to run and pass, MSU’s defense must be ready for anything.
Sirmon sees the Bulldogs’ defense growing and hopes they take yet another step forward against the Crimson Tide.
“I think all of those guys are getting better the more repetitions they have,” Sirmon said. “The more we coach them the more they understand the expectation. They understand the things they can improve on every week instead of changing things week to week.”
Mississippi State at Alabama
When: 11 a.m. Saturday
Where: Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa
Radio: 1640-AM, 1490-AM