Alabama committed just enough miscues to undermine its performance last weekend against Texas A&M and snuff any aspirations for completing an unblemished season.
Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban addressed those shortcomings in short order following a 41-38 road loss that dropped Alabama (5-1, 2-1 SEC) from first place to fifth in the polls. In preparation for their second consecutive road conference game, this time at Mississippi State (3-2, 2-1) at Davis Wade Stadium, the Crimson Tide are honing in on the specific tasks ahead.
Bulldogs quarterback Will Rogers is the only quarterback in the SEC with 400 passing yards and multiple touchdowns in the same game, a feat he has accomplished twice.
Alabama rolled to a 41-0 home win over Mississippi State last year; but with the loss to A&M fresh in their minds, the Crimson Tide are aware of what is required to slow the Bulldogs.
“I don’t think there’s any question about the fact that you’ve got to rotate players and keep a lot of fresh players in the game,” Saban said. “You’ve got to rush three guys sometimes, you’ve got to rush four guys sometimes, you’ve got to rush five guys sometimes. I think you’ve got to mix it up and disguise what you’re doing.”
The challenge in facing Alabama is annually the same. The Crimson Tide are juggernauts, and the loss at Texas A&M doesn’t alter that fact. The Aggies did prove that Alabama isn’t infallible, and their effort last week set something resembling a template for crafting an upset victory.
A large part of that challenge is mental. If the Bulldogs play with the vigor they showcased against LSU and Texas A&M over consecutive weeks, opportunities will manifest to push the Crimson Tide to the limit. How the Bulldogs manage the emotional roller coaster will be crucial.
“Your best is always enough,” Bulldogs coach Mike Leach said. “You’ve got to be disciplined enough to do your best, focus in, don’t get discouraged and don’t get too hyped if something good happens for you. It’s the discipline to constantly bring your best effort and not get distracted by the highs and the lows. And I think it takes discipline to do that. That’s the key.”
The Bulldogs do have the benefit of having already done what Alabama could not: defeat the Aggies in College Station. The combination of that result on the heels of a narrow loss against LSU and in advance of an open week set the foundation for an optimistic approach.
Film study of the Alabama loss might offer an additional incentive. The Crimson Tide so frequently throttle foes that not only are defeats rare, but close games are, too. If the Bulldogs need proof that a shocking result is possible, Leach needs only to remind them of what has already been done.
“One thing with Alabama, watching a team that plays them to the wire — not everybody does,” Leach said. “So that’s beneficial from that tape.
“You’ve just got to try and stay even-keeled. You always fight that with a young group, but I have seen some positive things. I thought we did that through the A&M game, so that was pretty good practice with regard to that in a tough environment where it’s tough to communicate.”