Alabama looks to bounce back against MS State

Alabama+quarterback+Bryce+Young+surveys+the+field+at+Bryant-Denny+Stadium+on+October+2%2C+2021.

CW / David Gray

Alabama quarterback Bryce Young surveys the field at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 2, 2021.

Ashlee Woods | @ashleemwoods, Sports Editor

Few expected the Texas A&M Aggies to defeat the Crimson Tide on Oct. 9. 

The unthinkable happened when placekicker Seth Small drilled a 22-yard game-winner as time expired. The once top-ranked team in the country was defeated for the first time since Nov. 30, 2019, when the Crimson Tide lost against the Auburn Tigers. 

“Honestly, we got hit in the mouth,” Alabama defensive lineman DJ Dale said on Tuesday. 

Now, it’s about how the team responds. 

On Saturday, No. 5 Alabama will face the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Davis Wade Stadium in its third consecutive conference game of the season. 

For some, it’s hard to bounce back from a loss, but it seems to be the opposite for Alabama. 

During his tenure, head coach Nick Saban has had two undefeated seasons: 2009 and 2020. Six of Alabama’s seven national championships under Saban came after a loss.

The last time Alabama lost a game and then won the championship was 2017. The Crimson Tide fell to the Auburn Tigers and missed out on the SEC championship. Alabama, as the fourth seed in the college football playoffs, defeated the top-ranked Georgia Bulldogs 26-23 in overtime. 

“It’s like I told them yesterday, ‘You’ve got to respond from the edge of the cliff,’” Saban said on Wednesday. “‘You don’t have a lot of room for error. You still can accomplish all the goals that you have a team, but we’re gonna have to play better more consistently if we’re gonna be able to do.’”

Alabama will have the chance to show how they handle adversity against the Bulldogs. 

Despite their 3-2 record, the Bulldogs have picked up quality wins over No. 22 North Carolina State and Texas A&M. The Alabama secondary will have their hands full against the potent Mississippi State “air raid” offense. 

Second-year head coach Mike Leach’s air-raid offense rose to notoriety in the 2020 season opener against the LSU Tigers. The Bulldogs picked on LSU’s secondary, leading them to a 44-34 victory. 

Mississippi State has steadily improved under Leach’s system. 

Quarterback Will Rogers has completed 75% of his passes, for 1,862 yards. He has not thrown  less than two touchdown passes in each of the four games this season. 

Most importantly, Rogers has not turned the ball over much in five games. 

“This year, however, Rogers has showed that he is much more careful with the ball,” said Tanner Marlar, sports editor of The Reflector. “He realizes that in this scheme, every possession matters.”

This is even truer against Alabama. The Crimson Tide is ranked 15th overall in total defense. Alabama has seven interceptions and two fumbles in six games. 

Despite creating turnovers and getting to the quarterback, Alabama has been vulnerable in the middle of the field which is the area Leach will most likely attack. 

“The one area I do see Leach attacking, though, is the middle of the field,” Marlar said. “It’s no secret that Bama is short-staffed on the defensive line at the moment — or at least they were in the A&M game. Calzada had plenty of time to make decisions and let routes develop down the middle of the field, where the wide receivers had mismatches.”

Leach’s offense depends on quick throws and a fast tempo. The front seven of Alabama must pressure Rogers on Saturday. Alabama must disrupt Rogers’ rhythm. 

Alabama must also prepare for the environment in Davis Wade Stadium. 

Last Saturday, the second-largest crowd in Kyle Field history disrupted Alabama’s rhythm. Players could not hear plays, and several false start penalties occurred. 

Davis Wade Stadium will be a different beast. 

“As always, Davis Wade Stadium will be as loud, if not louder, than any stadium the Tide has played in all year, especially with a 6:00 kickoff,” Marlar said. “If there was ever a time that Davis Wade will be packed for a game against Alabama, it will be when Mike Leach tries to hand Nick Saban his first-ever back-to-back loss as head coach of the Tide.” 

Last year, games were played in front of few fans or none at all.  Many players had not faced a loud, energetic crowd like the ones in conference play this season. 

However, the Crimson Tide is six games into the 2021 season. 

Alabama has also played three SEC games — Florida, Ole Miss and Texas A&M — in energetic atmospheres. From this point forward, every opposing crowd and many college football fans will be cheering for every mistake the Crimson Tide makes. Fans know they can rattle Alabama if they are loud enough. 

Alabama cannot let the crowd influence their play on Saturday. They must be focused from the start of the game because the crowd won’t stop cheering unless the Crimson Tide gives them a reason to. 

“It’s not about the other guy, it’s about how you wanna play and how good you wanna be, and that’s how you should prepare to play every week,” Saban said. 

Questions? Email the Sports desk at sports@cw.ua.edu.