No. 5 Alabama visits Mississippi St, seeking rebound in SEC
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By GARY B. GRAVES
Alabama hopes its wakeup call restored the focus and execution the Crimson Tide has lacked at times this season.
The fifth-ranked Crimson Tide certainly can't afford another falloff with Mississippi State ready to pounce at home.
Last week's 41-38, final-play loss at Texas A&M knocked Alabama (5-1, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) off its No. 1 perch and dealing with several contenders in a West Division that has been its domain. That group includes the Bulldogs (3-2, 1-1), who return rested from a bye and eager to stem the Tide following their own 26-22 upset of A&M nearly two weeks ago.
Taking an opponent's best shot comes with the territory as college football's premier team. But after an outing that featured breakdowns in several phases, Alabama coach Nick Saban has stressed bouncing back with their own A-game if the Tide expects to keep their lofty goals intact.
"The big thing for us is we've got to take care of our business, correct our things, do the things that we need to do to be able to play the way we want to play, and there's obviously some things that we need to do better," Saban said.
Alabama brings a 13-game series winning streak against MSU into Saturday night's meeting in Starkville, Mississippi. The run includes last year's 41-0 shutout of the Bulldogs that marked the low point of Mike Leach's first season as coach.
Upsetting Texas A&M was critical in showing MSU could beat a favorite. The Bulldogs are focused more about an encore against a supreme heavyweight eager to prove it's not in trouble than exacting revenge, which will be its own reward if they succeed.
"I'm sure they were motivated to play A&M in the first place and now they'll be motivated to play us," Leach said of Alabama. "We just have to focus on ourselves and be the best team we can be."
Some other things to watch as No. 5 Alabama visits Mississippi State:
MSU quarterback Will Rogers threw for 408 yards and three touchdowns to help beat A&M and maintain one of the program's strongest starts. The sophomore's 14 TDs through five games in the Air Raid offense are the most in 15 years, topping Dak Prescott (13 in 2014) and Tyler Russell (10, 2012). Rogers has two games this season with 400-plus yards passing and multiple TDs, the only SEC QB to do so, and leads a passing attack leading the conference at 372.4 yards per game.
"He does a good job asserting himself as far as creating energy," Leach said. "He takes the team on his shoulders and tries to elevate them any way he can."
An Alabama pass rush usually led by linebacker Will Anderson Jr. didn't have much success against Texas A&M, with no sacks or hurries on the stat sheet. Tide defenders believes that needs to change against the Rogers-led Bulldogs offense.
"Pass rush is gonna play a big factor because they pass the ball a lot, so we have to affect the quarterback," defensive lineman D.J. Dale said. "And if we can't do that, it can be a long day for us as a defense."
Mississippi State wide receiver Makai Polk is averaging an SEC-best 9.2 receptions per game and ranks third in FBS after catching 13 for 126 yards two weeks ago. He has reached double digits in catches in three of five games and has 430 yards and is among a big group tied for 35th with four touchdowns.
Alabama has lost 18 games since 2008, and has followed up 15 so far with a win with an average margin of 22.5 points. The Tide haven't lost back-to-back regular season games since 2007, Saban's first season.
ALABAMA IN COMMAND
Alabama's 105 meetings with Mississippi State is the Tide's most against any opponent. Alabama leads 82-18-3 after NCAA sanctions and has won 13 straight, including last year's 41-0 win. Saban is 18-1 against Mississippi State, 13-1 while at Alabama.
AP Sports Writer John Zenor in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, contributed to this report.
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Updated October 14, 2021