News from the Tennessee Valley Sports

Mississippi State head coach Sylvester Croom, left, and quarterback Wesley Carroll are hosting Alabama in Starkville, Miss., on Saturday. Kickoff is 11:30 a.m.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Mississippi State head coach Sylvester Croom, left, and quarterback Wesley Carroll are hosting Alabama in Starkville, Miss., on Saturday. Kickoff is 11:30 a.m.

Bowl future
on the line

Tide players say they're more aware of Bulldogs after 2006 upset

By Josh Cooper · 340-2460

TUSCALOOSA — Alabama insists it has put last week's tough loss to LSU in the past.

The Crimson Tide fell 41-34 despite holding a lead late in the fourth quarter.

However, the schedule continues Saturday when the No. 21-ranked Crimson Tide (6-3, 4-2 SEC) travels to play the Mississippi State Bulldogs (5-4, 2-3).

"You've got to put it behind you," Tide linebacker Darren Mustin said. "You can't get a hangover from this and let it carry into this week. We've got to get our stuff together and win."

The Crimson Tide brings the same overall record into this game as it did last year, when the Bulldogs upset the Tide 24-16. But something doesn't quite seem the same — the players say they are more aware of State than they were last year when the Bulldogs controlled the line of scrimmage in Tuscaloosa.

"They didn't care who we were or that we were at home," Tide quarterback John Parker Wilson said. "They came out played us hard, played us the whole game. And they got after us."

A win over MSU last year would have guaranteed a bowl game. This year, a win over MSU edges Alabama closer to an upper-tier bowl on the SEC tie-in list.

However, Mississippi State has high stakes, too — a victory makes the Bulldogs eligible for a bowl.

"This is a big game this week," MSU coach Sylvester Croom said. "I think the significance is that it's Alabama; that's enough. It's also a chance for us to move into bowl eligibility, a place we haven't been in a long time. It's a great challenge for us. There's no question about that.

"I think Alabama is playing very good football right now. They are performing at a very high level. Watching their game against LSU, it was probably a game they should have won had that fumble not occurred late in the contest. The one thing that has really impressed me about Alabama is the number of close games they've been able to win this year."

The Bulldogs still have 240-pound running back Anthony Dixon on the squad. He had 121 rushing yards in last year's win over Alabama. He ranks fifth in the SEC with 830 rushing yards in nine contests, which is 92.2 yards a game.

So far this season, big running backs have given Alabama trouble. Arkansas' Darren McFadden and Ole Miss' BenJarvus Green-Ellis had big games against the Tide.

"(Dixon) is powerful, a very powerful runner, straightforward — he is that type of running back," Alabama defensive end Wallace Gilberry said. "He is going to run you over. It is definitely going to be a physical game. With the guys we have on both sides of the ball, it is going to be a very interesting game."

The Bulldogs' passing game has gotten better since freshman Wesley Carroll was inserted at quarterback, but the Bulldogs rank last in the SEC with 147.4 passing yards a game. Carroll has completed 54.7 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and no interceptions.

Overall, Mississippi State ranks last in the SEC in total offense with 297.2 yards a game.

Still, Alabama sounds like it isn't taking the Bulldogs lightly, if the lessons from last year were learned.

"We've got to dig in and fight from here on out," Mustin said. "Last year is last year. Yeah, it was big for them and bad for us. The only thing we can do is win this week, and that will heal a lot."

No. 21 Alabama (6-3, 4-2 SEC)
at Mississippi State (5-4, 2-3)

When: Saturday, 11:30 a.m.

Where: Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, Miss.

Line: Alabama by 41/2.

TV/radio: WZDX-54 will carry Lincoln Financial’s TV broadcast of the game. Fans can catch the radio broadcast on AM-1400, AM-730, AM-770, FM-93.9 and FM-92.5.

Players to watch: For Alabama, it’s receiver Keith Brown. He had his best game of the year against LSU last week with two touchdowns. Brown ranked second in receiving for Alabama last year, despite being hurt for the second half of the season. But he has struggled this year. If the Tide can find Brown and DJ Hall regularly, Alabama’s passing game could be tough for the Bulldogs to stop.

Every time Mississippi State defensive end Titus Brown plays Alabama, he usually plays well. He graduated from Tuscaloosa’s Hillcrest High, but wasn’t offered a scholarship by the Crimson Tide. He had arguably his best game as a collegian last year against Alabama. What will he do for an encore?

Key matchup: MSU quarterback Wesley Carroll has thrown 137 passes without an interception. Alabama is tied for the SEC lead in interceptions with 15. How will the Tide’s secondary respond to Carroll? Is Carroll getting lucky, or is he really this good? We will find out Saturday.

Weather: Partly cloudy and 66 degrees.

Last meeting: Mississippi State 24, Alabama 16 on Nov. 4, 2006.

Prediction: Alabama 31, Mississippi State 10.

Josh Cooper, Daily Sports Writer

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