Alabama, Miss St. ready for another physical game

AP: Mississippi State running back Anthony Dixon calls Saturday’s showdown with Alabama a “woodshed” game, perfectly capturing how the Bulldogs feel when they play the Crimson Tide.

Think Mississippi State can’t beat No. 3 Alabama? Think again.

It’s happened twice in the last three years and the Bulldogs are more confident than your average sub-.500 team going into a game against the undefeated Crimson Tide.

“I’m looking for a tough, physical game — one of those woodshed games,” Dixon said. “They know it and we know it. They know the last three of four years we’ve been playing each other it’s been knockout. We’re just trying to defend our turf, protect our house.”

The Crimson Tide (9-0, 6-0 SEC) needs to win Saturday night to keep its national championship hopes rolling and show the team has learned its lesson from last year when the Tide clinched the SEC West with three games remaining.

Alabama eased through the rest of the regular season undefeated, but swooned in the postseason and finished with two losses.

Coach Nick Saban has been talking about the dangers of looking ahead all year and the game against the Bulldogs is a great reason not to.

“So far, so good,” Saban said. “The challenge is the next game and how are you going to respond to the next game? I think it gets more and more difficult to maintain that level of consistency mentally because each and every team that we play is capable of beating any team on any given day.”

The Bulldogs (4-5, 2-3) have goals, too, and a win against Alabama will make them that much easier to attain. Mississippi State needs to win two of its last three to qualify for a bowl, and an impressive performance against Kentucky going into a bye week has them full of confidence.

After all, it’s not like the Bulldogs haven’t been in this position before this season.

Big game against a ranked team? What’s new about that?

“I think the guys have confidence given the schedule they’ve played this season,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. “This will be our fifth team in the top 15 of the BCS polls that we’re playing this year. Our guys are used to playing against the best team in the country.”

Mississippi State nearly knocked off LSU, falling after the Tigers’ put on a late goal-line stand. And the Bulldogs pushed Houston and Georgia Tech to the wire, before roughing up Tim Tebow and Florida.

All those teams escaped Starkville with wins, but the games gave the Bulldogs the idea that maybe they’re not that far away from pulling off a major upset.

“I think they know they’ve got to bring the physical game because they know we’re going to bring it,” Dixon said.

That begins deep in the backfield for both teams. Dixon (125.1 yards per game) and Alabama running back Mark Ingram (127.6 ypg) are the top two rushers in the Southeastern Conference — and Nos. 6 and 8 in the nation.

While much of the focus will be on those two, it’s more likely the outcome will have to do with quarterbacks Greg McElroy of Alabama and Tyson Lee of Mississippi State.

Both have struggled this season. Alabama is 76th in the nation in passing, while Mississippi State is 105th.

The quarterback who plays better this weekend gives his team a big advantage — and quiets those critics.

“Sometimes as a quarterback you receive a lot of credit and you receive a lot of blame, and sometimes you feel like that’s deserved and sometimes you feel like that’s undeserved,” McElroy said. “It’s not anything that anyone can do anything about. It’s the nature of the position, it’s the nature of the school and it’s just the way things are. It’s something that you’ve got to make peace with.”