News from the Tennessee Valley Sports

Tide's loss to Miss. State in 2006 changed program's landscape

By Josh Cooper 340-2460

TUSCALOOSA — It's a list of questions each Alabama player refuses to answer directly.

What if Mississippi State hadn't dominated the line of scrimmage against Alabama last year? What if the Bulldogs' Anthony Dixon hadn't rushed for 121 yards? What if the Tide hadn't lost 24-16? Who would be Alabama's coach if all of that hadn't happened?

"Oh, I don't know," Tide quarterback John Parker Wilson said. "I haven't thought about that at all."

But there's no denying that last year's game between Alabama and Mississippi State had a huge effect on the Crimson Tide.

When the Bulldogs came to Tuscaloosa last year, Alabama had the same overall record as it does now — 6-3, although the Tide was 2-3 in the SEC compared to 4-2 this year. Before that loss to MSU, Alabama was looking to move up in the bowl discussions.

But then the 2-7 Bulldogs steamrolled Alabama. Former Tide offensive lineman Sylvester Croom is MSU's coach. Alabama had interviewed Croom for its head coaching position after Mike Price was fired in 2003, but passed him over in favor of Mike Shula.

In that game, the Bulldogs pulled out to a 24-10 halftime lead and never looked back.

It was Mississippi State's 17th victory in 91 attempts against the Crimson Tide. The loss stung so badly that then-Tide running back Kenneth Darby deemed the loss "embarrassing."

Alabama's season then went into a tailspin. The team lost its remaining three games, and Shula lost his job along the way.

"I really haven't had a chance to think about it, about what happened. I think it caused a lot of changes to things that happened around here," Tide safety Rashad Johnson said.

"It was just, the season just changed completely. ... The attitude of players, it just seemed like it was a big downhill thing for us."

For the Bulldogs, last year's game was about gaining respect.

It was the second time since Croom took over as MSU coach that a victory over a traditional power led to the ouster of its coach.

In 2004, the Bulldogs defeated Florida 38-31, helping then-Gators coach Ron Zook out the door.

About last year's Alabama game, Croom said, "I think some of that shows you where our program still is, the fact that they would fire a coach because Mississippi State won the ballgame."

Last year's loss may have motivated Alabama for Saturday's matching with the Bulldogs.

"We're just going to get ready for these boys," Tide linebacker Ezekial Knight said. "They beat us last year. I think everybody has got like a little chip on their shoulders."

Tide head coach Nick Saban has dwelled on his team not getting too far down following its loss against LSU last week.

According to the players, a contest against the Bulldogs in something of a revenge game could be exactly what they need.

"They wanted it more last year than we wanted it," Tide left tackle Justin Britt

"That was evident. We just didn't get after them like we should have last year, and I think we'll do that this year."

Alabama at Miss. State

11:30 a.m.

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