|No. 1 'Bama wary of Bulldogs|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 14 November 2008 13:32|
The Bulldogs coach would love to check out life on the other side.
The last time Mississippi State faced a No. 1 Crimson Tide team ended with a 6-3 upset way back in 1980 that derailed Bear Bryant and 'Bama's hopes for a third straight national championship.
The Bulldogs (3-6, 1-4 Southeastern Conference) hope to play the spoiler role again Saturday night, but don't look for Croom to dig anywhere near that deep for pre-game motivational fodder. The last two years, coupled with the chance to beat the No. 1 team, should suffice.
``These kids don't even remember 1980,'' said Croom, then an assistant at his alma mater. ``You might as well be talking about 80 B.C. as far as a lot of them concerned.
``They do remember last year and they do remember the year before.''
s Alabama (10-0, 6-0), which lost both those meetings. If those were tough blows, losing this time would be even more devastating for a team that has finally reclaimed its position as the national title front-runner.
It only took the Tide 28 years to regain the top spot in the regular season again in 26 P.B., Post Bear. The not-so-distant past could help 'Bama avoid another upset.
``It's impossible for us to overlook them now knowing they beat us the last two years,'' Alabama tailback Glen Coffee said.
Javier Arenas doesn't think a letdown following an emotional overtime win at LSU to secure the SEC West title is a concern. He said the Tide hasn't played up to its abilities in the past two meetings, with turnovers and other mistakes proving costly.
``That won't happen this year,'' the cornerback said. ``We're going to treat these guys like what they are: A good football team, a fast football team, an SEC football team.''
They've certainly looked like all those things the past two meetings with Alabama. The Tide hasn't scored an offensive touchdown against the Bulldogs since the closing minutes of the 2004 game, a span of 185 minutes of football.
'Bama, which will play Florida in the SEC championship game, is a 22-point favorite to continue on its path toward a 12-0 mark.
Rival Mississippi, after all, already got one with an upset of No. 3 Florida.
Win this one, and a few national title contenders could borrow Alabamians' tongue-in-cheek motto: Thank God for Mississippi.
``It's a big game for us,'' Croom said. ``It puts us into the national spotlight. It gives us a chance for our guys to show off and represent our state and our school and their families.''
The Bulldogs just might be catching the Tide at an opportune time. First, Croom is 3-0 against ranked teams when coming off a bye week. Second, Alabama just had a physical, emotional overtime win at LSU to clinch the SEC West title.
Mississippi State still holds out hope of winning its final three games to qualify for a bowl game, and perhaps give a boost to Croom's job security.
``They're the No. 1 team in the nation. It doesn't get any better than this,'' linebacker Dominic Davis said. ``Just for the team and for coach Croom especially. He's on the hot seat. I know it's frustrating for him, but it's also frustrating for the team to see our coach getting heat like that. We support him, we support everything the coaches do.''
Tide players seem taken aback by any questions that they might be caught looking ahead to Auburn in two weeks or Florida the week after that. Coach Nick Saban's weekly sermons on staying focused and pointing out upsets around the country help take care of that.
s: ``Avoid the letdown? Well, Mississippi State's beaten us the last two years,'' offensive tackle Drew Davis said, sounding bemused at the question. ``They're also a good team. Like coach Saban says, there are no easy victories and Mississippi State will not be an easy victory.''
Certainly not physically easy. The Tide's league-leading run defense just finished coping with LSU's 230-pound tailback Charles Scott and now gets to spend an evening colliding with Mississippi State's 240-pound Anthony Dixon.
``It's just a power running game,'' said Tide safety Rashad Johnson, who had three interceptions against LSU. ``They've got some big backs. They're going to run the power. And here it comes: You know it's coming. Who's going to line up and who's going to make the tackle? That's all it comes down to.
``Everybody's going to have to be buckled up and ready to go.''
The Bulldogs defense might be advised to do likewise. They've been the league's best against the pass but are next-to-last at stopping the run, giving up 143 yards per game on the ground.
Power running has been Alabama's offensive forte with the combination of 1,000-yard rusher Coffee, freshman Mark Ingram and Roy Upchurch, who is questionable with neck problems.
``We wanted to face the No. 1 team in the nation on ESPN,'' Bailey said. ``The whole nation will be watching. This is the same team we played last year. I feel like if we play like we did last year, if we catch that fire and enthusiasm we had last year, we have a good chance of winning.''
AP Sports Writer Chris Talbott in Jackson, Miss., contributed to this report.