No. 18 Mis­sis­sippi State hits road to play No. 1 Alabama

The Sun Herald - - Front Page - BY JOHN ZENOR

NTUSCALOOSA, ALA. o. 1 Alabama just dis­patched its big­gest divi­sion chal­lenger, and now faces its clos­est ri­val. Ge­o­graph­i­cally, at least. The Crim­son Tide (9-0, 6-0 SEC, No. 1 CFP) hosts No. 18 Mis­sis­sippi State (6-3, 2-3) Satur­day try­ing to ex­tend a 10game win­ning streak over the West Divi­sion ri­val from about 90 min­utes down the road.

Alabama is a 24-1/2-point fa­vorite af­ter a 29-0 win over No. 9 LSU in what was pre­sumed to be the big­gest reg­u­lar sea­son test. That win se­cured a spot against No. 5 Ge­or­gia in the SEC cham­pi­onship game on Dec. 1.

Tide play­ers are still find­ing ways to mo­ti­vate them­selves even if the team’s doubters aren’t ex­actly nu­mer­ous.

“They said we haven’t played any­body and that our of­fense and de­fense were very sus­pect,” tight end Irv Smith Jr. said. “We wanted to go out there and show every­body what we were ca­pa­ble of do­ing.”

Smith’s con­clu­sion af­ter the Ba­ton Rouge beat­down: “Of­fen­sively and de­fen­sively I feel like no­body can stop us in the coun­try.”

But the Bull­dogs, led by quar­ter­back Nick Fitzger­ald, are game to try. The SEC’s toprated over­all, scor­ing and pass de­fense gets a shot at what no­body else has been able to do: Con­tain Alabama’s Heis­man Tro­phy can­di­date quar­ter­back Tua Tago­v­ailoa.

Mis­sis­sippi State has al­lowed only nine touch­downs, fewest in the na­tion, and ranks sec­ond al­low­ing just 12.3 points per game.

The Bull­dogs of­fense, though, has only topped 10 points twice in that decade­long los­ing streak to the Tide.

“We talk all the time here in our build­ing and with our kids about the term ‘Cham­pi­onship Stan­dard’ and, quite frankly, this is what we are chas­ing,” said Bull­dogs coach Joe Moor­head, fac­ing the Tide for the first time.

“Alabama is the gold stan­dard in this league. I told the team (Sun­day) night, no one falls to the top of the moun­tain. Th­ese guys have worked their tails off and earned the right to be there. It is our job to go out there and try to knock them off.”

Here are some other things to watch in the Mis­sis­sippi State-Alabama game:

HOME STREAK: The Tide has won 23 con­sec­u­tive games at home and could match the school record set from 1971-74 at Le­gion Field and Bryan­tDenny.

MIS­SIS­SIPPI STATE VS NO. 1:

The Bull­dogs have played the No. 1 team in the coun­try eight times, and seven of those games have been against the Tide. The other was against Florida in 2009. Mis­sis­sippi State’s lone win against the top team came on Nov. 1, 1980, when the Bull­dogs beat Alabama 6-3 in Jack­son. The clos­est Mis­sis­sippi State has come to knock­ing off No. 1 since that game was last sea­son, when Alabama edged the Bull­dogs 31-24 in Starkville.

BALL SE­CU­RITY: Mis­sis­sippi State is the only team in the Foot­ball Bowl Sub­di­vi­sion that hasn’t lost a fum­ble this year. It’s a streak that in­cludes 344 rush­ing at­tempts. Fitzger­ald has lost a fum­ble only three times in his ca­reer and all three came in 2016. Since then, he’s had 458 car­ries with­out a lost fum­ble.

TAGO­V­AILOA VS. FITZGER­ALD:

They’re two very dif­fer­ent quar­ter­backs but both are dan­ger­ous. Tago­v­ailoa is one of the na­tion’s top passers with 27 touch­downs and just one in­ter­cep­tion (com­ing against LSU). He did run for a 44-yard touch­down in that game de­spite a gimpy right knee, but mainly makes plays with his left arm.

Fitzger­ald is the SEC’s all­time ca­reer leader in yards rush­ing for a quar­ter­back and ranks sec­ond in the league over­all with 104.9 yards per game.

DE­FEN­SIVE LINE STARS:

This game will fea­ture some of the SEC’s top de­fen­sive line­men, from Alabama’s Quin­nen Wil­liams, Raek­won Davis and Isa­iah Buggs to Mis­sis­sippi State’s Mon­tez Sweat and Jef­fery Sim­mons.

GER­ALD HERBERT AP

Alabama quar­ter­back Tua Tago­v­ailoa rushes on a 44 yard touch­down carry last week­end against host LSU. Alabama won 29-0.

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