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.”
Saban also said Mississippi was “no doubt, the best team we’ve played to this point in the season.”
Heading into the season, it was Arkansas, not Mississippi State, that was picked to compete with Alabama and LSU for the SEC West and SEC Championship. But the Bulldogs have emerged as a potential threat to the Tide with a strong defense, a tough running game and an efficient quarterback.
Bulldogs’ Russell, Perkins on Alabama’s radar
Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell and running back LaDarius Perkins are two players on the Alabama defense’s radar.
Russell is in his first year as the full-time starter for the Bulldogs after splitting time with Chris Relf last season. The junior has been efficient, throwing for 1,573 yards, 15 touchdowns and only one interception.
“This year he is showing a lot of poise and experience in getting the ball out of his hands quickly,” Saban said. “They’re a much, much better passing team than a year ago when he just shared time. There is not really anything that he doesn’t do well in my opinion.”
Perkins is leading the SEC in rushing, with 724 yards and eight touchdowns and an average of 5.8 yards per carry. Despite the numbers, he has yet to get much national recognition.
“Their running game is probably the best in the SEC,” linebacker Nico Johnson said. “[Perkins] is leading the SEC in rushing, so we’re going to come in and try to make them one-dimensional the best we can.”
Saban cites Plaxico Burress as reason for not allowing freshmen talking to media
Head coach Nick Saban has a long-standing policy of not allowing freshmen to talk to the media. Saban said it allows young players to develop and learn how to talk to the media.
But it was Plaxico Burress, who played Saban when he coached at Michigan State, as the reason he implemented the policy. Burress was a little outspoken with the media before the Spartans faced Michigan on the road.
“He said, ‘Going down there will be like taking candy from a baby,’” Saban said. “He just about got killed down there. So I just put a stop to it.”
Players of the week
Nine Alabama players were recognized by the coaching staff for their performances after Saturday’s 44-13 victory at Tennessee. Amari Cooper, AJ McCarron and Michael Williams were named players of the week on offense, while Deion Belue, Dee Milliner and Vinnie Sunseri represented the defense. On special teams, Nico Johnson, Cyrus Jones and T.J. Yeldon were selected.
Cooper set an Alabama freshman record with 162 receiving yards on seven catches and scored two touchdowns. He was named the SEC Freshman of the Week and leads the team in receiving yardage (425), receiving touchdowns (5) and receptions (28). McCarron threw for a career-high 306 yards, completing 17-of-22 passes with four touchdowns and no interceptions. He leads the nation in pass efficiency (183.6) and has thrown a school-record 239 passes without an interception. Williams caught two passes for 6 yards; including a 1-yard pass from McCarron that gave the Tide a 20-3 lead in the second quarter.
Belue was credited with one tackle and a pass break-up, while Milliner recorded five tackles with a pass break-up. Milliner leads the nation in passes defended with 15. Sunseri was second on the team with six tackles and had one tackle for loss. Alabama gave up just 282 total yards (203 passing, 79 rushing) and forced a pair of interceptions. It leads the nation in all four major defensive categories.
On special teams, Jones totaled 86 yards on punt and kickoff returns. Yeldon had key blocks on the kick and punt return teams while Johnson contributed on punt and punt return teams. He finished the game with four total tackles.
C.J. Mosley leads the team in terms of weekly Player of the Week honors with six, followed by Milliner’s total of four.