After road stint, Alabama returns homeBy Kelly Ward | 11/13/2014 12:39am
CW | Pete Pajor, Photo Illustration by Sloane Arogeti
Alabama’s six-game winning streak over the Bulldogs doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter that last year after a gritty win over LSU in Bryant-Denny Stadium, Alabama went to Starkville and pounded out a 20-7 win over the Bulldogs.
“Like I’ve talked about before, what’s happened in the past doesn’t matter,” Saban said. “Nothing matters. What matters is that they have a very good team and they play very well, they have a very significant amount of things that they’ve been able to accomplish this year so far in going 9-0 and beating some good teams on the road.”
On the road, a then-unranked Mississippi State silenced a crowd in Baton Rouge.
On the road, No. 1 Mississippi State smothered any hope Kentucky had of challenging the SEC East.
The Bulldogs’ home resumé includes stifling a then-No. 6 Texas A&M offense on a weekend that catapulted the state of Mississippi into the spotlight after both SEC universities beat top-10 opponents (Ole Miss took a 23-17 win over Alabama). The next weekend Mississippi State cruised to a 38-23 win over then-No. 2 Auburn.
Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott has helped the team to a perfect start and put himself in Heisman contention. He has 2,231 yards passing, 18 touchdowns in the air and an SEC-leading 9.3 yards per attempt so far. He’s racked up another 870 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground.
“He’s a mobile quarterback,” Alabama safety Landon Collins said. “He’s big. He can break arm tackles more than any quarterback we’ve played so far. He gets the ball in his receiver’s hands really quick and does a great job at what they do.”
The Alabama secondary has to put together a delicate balance of covering the pass and accounting for the quarterback run.
“Just knowing your keys,” Collins said. “Having faith in your line of scrimmage and that they’re going to do their jobs and them having faith in us knowing we’re going to do our jobs. Just be on the same page.”
Polls don’t matter, but No. 1 isn’t nothing
Mississippi State has enjoyed a No. 1 ranking since beating Auburn. The Bulldogs own the top spot in all three major rankings.
The latest College Football Playoff ranking came out Tuesday with Mississippi State holding steady at No. 1 and Alabama on the outside looking in at No. 5 for the second straight week.
Ask Saban if the rankings matter, and the response doesn’t change.
“I didn’t even really know what we were in the poll, and it really doesn’t matter at all to me or our team or our players because it’s about the game that we play,” Saban said in the SEC conference call on Wednesday. “If you don’t have success in the games that you play, the poll’s not going to matter.”
Alabama’s remaining schedule includes the No. 1 team in the country and the No. 9 team in the country. If the Crimson Tide wins both games, it earns a ticket to Atlanta.
“The emphasis is if you have success against the teams you have to play, all those things are going to take care of themselves,” Saban said. “The emphasis has to be on how we play, how we execute, preparing the right way for this particular game, this particular team, and give ourselves the best chance to be successful in this game. So none of that really matters.”
Saban’s point of view isn’t lost on his players.
Junior cornerback Cyrus Jones said he didn’t look at the College Football Playoff ranking release which saw Oregon jump Florida State for the No. 2 slot following a 51-27 win at then-No. 17 Utah and TCU jump Alabama for No. 4 after a 41-20 win over then-No. 7 Kansas State at home.
“We really don’t pay too much attention to the rankings because that only means something at the end of the season when you don’t have any more games to play, so we just try to look forward to the next challenge,” Jones said.
The next challenge is the No. 1 Mississippi State Bulldogs coming in for a round at Bryant-Denny.
“We understand it’s definitely a big game and it’s going to take a valiant effort for us to come out with the win, and so will they,” Jones said. “It’s going to be a tough SEC-type game, but rankings really don’t matter once you step on the field. It’s all about who comes and plays best that day.”
No pain, no gain
When Alabama took the field in Tiger Stadium on Saturday, true freshman left tackle Cam Robinson was two weeks removed from a high ankle sprain. He started.
“I think it’s really amazing to me that Cam has played as well as he’s played this entire year as a freshman and the improvement he was making prior to his injury was really pretty astonishing,” Saban said. “He was playing as well as any offensive lineman we have. I think that he’s recovered from his injury and he was probably close to 100 percent in the game.”
Robinson wasn’t the only one coming off an injury. Running back T.J. Yeldon was battling an ankle injury before and didn’t play after he fumbled in the fourth quarter and injured his foot.
Linebacker Reggie Ragland has a broken bone in his left hand, but he didn’t let a broken hand stop him from taking on LSU.
“Determination,” Collins said of Ragland’s play. “He wasn’t letting no hand stop him from what he was doing or let anyone push him around. That’s what he said to me and that’s what he did. Hands down to him because playing with a broken hand and having to take on 300-pound blockers and take on a fullback coming downhill. I don’t know how he did it, but he did a great job.”
Ragland recorded 13 tackles in the game, including a tackle for a 3-yard loss.
It’s good to be home
The last time Alabama played at home, it was 75 degrees in mid-October. The Crimson Tide will face highs in the mid-50s when Mississippi State comes to town.
“Football is football, but when it’s cold, I’m like ‘I wish it was hot,’” tight end O.J. Howard said. “When it’s hot, it’s like ‘I wish it was cold.’ So it doesn’t really matter for real to me.”
What does matter to the team is returning to a home crowd in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
“There’s nothing like playing in front of our fans,” Howard said.
The mid-October game had 101,821 in paid attendance for a 59-0 blowout of Texas A&M. Three weeks later, Alabama scraped out a 20-13 overtime win in front of a raucous crowd at LSU.
“It’s kind of fun,” Jones said. “It adds flair to the game a little bit. Just knowing everyone in the crowd – mostly everyone – is against you. It motivates you and brings everyone together. Pretty much, we are all we got. We have to go out, especially in a visitor’s stadium, to go out and get the win.”
But Bryant-Denny Stadium is home.
“Nobody is going to be booing us,” Jones said. “We’ll be back in our comfort zone.”
Alabama has responded to the atmosphere at home especially against Florida and Texas A&M, Saban said. Both games were reported as sellouts.
“It seems like a long time ago since we only had one home game in seven weeks,” Saban said. “But I know our players are certainly looking forward to coming home, and I know our fans will do everything they can do to create the kind of atmosphere that’s going to help our players respond emotionally the way they need to be able to play well in this game.”