No. 1-ranked Alabama hosts Mississippi State on Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Here are four key questions that will be answered:
1. Can the defense keep it up?
After some early-season inconsistency, Alabama’s defense has steadily been getting better as most recently manifested in the Crimson Tides shutout of LSU in Baton Rouge, La., last weekend. Mississippi State presents a different sort of challenge in the form of Nick Fitzgerald, who has rushed for more yards than any quarterback in SEC history.
2. How beat up is Alabama?
Even with an open date before the LSU game, the Crimson Tide has some bumps and bruises. Tua Tagovailoa seems gimpy and his backup, Jalen Hurts, is still nursing a high-ankle sprain. Others are surely feeling the toll of the season. Playing a physical Mississippi State team on the heels of the hard-hitting game with LSU could be difficult.
3. Is the running game rounding into form?
Tagovailoa’s precision passing and penchant for big plays and quick scoring left Alabama’s ground attack lacking through much of the first half of the season. Damien Harris and his backfield mates stepped up as UA ran for 281 yards at LSU. The offensive line is opening seams and Alabama’s rushers are starting to gash opponents.
4. Will Alabama have an LSU hangover?
The Crimson Tide just dismantled a No. 3-ranked team in its own stadium in front of a hostile crowd. Alabama wanted to make a statement and did just that. Now UA has clinched a spot in the SEC Championship Game and has established itself with a signature victory. This team will need to maintain focus to avoid a trap game against an opponent that gave it fits just a year ago.