No. 4 Alabama at Mississippi State
When and Where: Saturday, Nov. 16, Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field, Starkville, Miss., Noon EST.
Win and hope.
Those are the only two things fourth-ranked Alabama can do the rest of the way to return to the College Football Playoff, and that uphill climb begins with Saturday's intradivisional SEC clash at Mississippi State.
The Crimson Tide (8-1, 5-1 SEC West) picked the worst possible time to play their worst half of football this season, falling behind 33-13 in the first two quarters of their titanic showdown with No. 1 LSU last Saturday. Alabama gamely rallied in the second half, but could never get a key stop or over the hump in a 46-41 defeat that ended its 31-game home winning streak.
It also potentially ended the Tide's run of being part of every College Football Playoff since the four-team format was introduced for the 2014 season. Alabama would have to win out and have multiple outcomes from the other Power 5 conference go its way in addition to having LSU lose -- potentially twice -- to give Saban's team a credible argument about being included.
There is a strong possibility the Crimson Tide will not be in the SEC title game, but they have already been part of the CFP taking that route in 2017 and winning the national title.
Tua Tagovailoa was clearly not 100 percent despite being able to play with a sprained ankle and finished with 418 yards and four touchdown passes. He also had two critical first-half turnovers -- a fumble on the opening possession of the game and an interception late in the second quarter -- that LSU converted into a pair of touchdowns.
Mississippi State (4-5, 2-4 West) is likely exhausting its margin of error to be bowl eligible unless it can pull off its first upset of an AP Top 5 team since stunning then-No. 4 Auburn 38-23 on Oct. 11, 2014.
The Bulldogs have been idle since pounding Arkansas 54-24 on Nov. 2, snapping a four-game losing streak while running hog wild. Kylin Hill ran for a career-high 234 yards as Mississippi State churned out 460 of its season-best 640 yards on the ground, averaging 8.1 yards per carry.
The effort pushed Hill over the 1,000-yard mark for the season, giving him 1,027, and he also surpassed 2,000 yards for his career (2,154). Nick Gibson added 129 yards, including a 47-yard dash to paydirt.
Mississippi State has already been manhandled by the other powers in the West, losing to Auburn and LSU by a combined 92-36. The Bulldogs have also lost 11 straight to Alabama since a 17-12 win in 2007, getting outscored 337-94 in those defeats.
Saban trying to build on second half of LSU defeatAlabama, which was fifth in the CFP rankings released Tuesday night, looked like Alabama in the second half against LSU, though the defense was unable to get a needed stop. Still, Saban is looking to take the positives from those two quarters going forward.
"In the second half, I was really pleased with the way our team came back and really persevered, played hard, fought their way back in the game, executed a little better and a lot of good things," Saban said at his weekly media availability.
"The big question is how do we build on that? This game this week is usually a real battle for us when we go over to Mississippi State, to Starkville. They’re always physical and it’s always a physical game. We have a lot of challenges in terms of what we need to do to fix the issues that we have."
When in doubt, GIVE IT TO NAJEE! pic.twitter.com/szMfud9pUu— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) November 9, 2019
Saban also expects Tagovailoa to play in this game, though his status will be monitored leading up to the game. The Crimson Tide quarterback is 16th in the nation with 2,584 yards but third with 31 touchdowns and seventh in completion percentage (70.9).
However, once again, Tagovailoa will be listed as a game-time decision. He's just three weeks away from having surgery to repair a high ankle sprain, so he's obviously not 100%.
"He'll probably be a game-time decision as to whether he can or can't play," Saban told reporters on the SEC teleconference. "I don't even know for sure if he'll be able to practice fully today."
"We did all the medical research that you could do on him to find out if he did any damage or hurt himself in any way, shape or form, and he did not. So we’ll manage the soreness," Saban said. "We may give him a day off today and sort of start him back tomorrow a little bit. We’ll just have to manage it day to day and he should respond each and every week. The situation that he’s in is very much expected, and he doesn’t have any further issues."
Devonta Smith is 66 receiving yards shy of 1,000 after his second 200-yard game of the season. He was a bit player against Mississippi State in the victories the last two years, totaling two catches for 36 yards.
Moorhead to rotate quarterbacks versus TideMississippi State coach Joe Moorhead has been rotating Garrett Shrader and Tommy Stevens all season, and that appears to be the plan for this game. Stevens looks to be in line to start after coming off his best game of the season, totaling 246 yards rushing and receiving versus Arkansas.
Tommy “Touchdown” Stevens has returned! pic.twitter.com/E1Nz9eyvMO— thatSECpodcast (@thatSECpodcast) November 2, 2019
"We're going to keep practicing and keep giving them reps throughout the week," Moorhead said at his Monday press conference. "Maybe one, maybe the other, maybe both."
Hill extended Mississippi State's streak of 1,000-yard rushers to five consecutive years and is the fourth player in that span to accomplish the feat. The Bulldogs are averaging 217 rushing yards but will be facing a Crimson Tide that ranks 33rd in the country against the run, yielding 131.7 yards per contest.
Shrader has been the better quarterback running the ball, totaling 504 yards at 5.5 per carry compared to Stevens totaling 126 and 2.6 per rush.
Mississippi State's defense has yielded 30.2 points per game and 389.2 yards per contest. The Bulldogs have struggled against the pass, giving up 15 touchdowns and 227.3 passing yards per contest.
- 4-1 ATS in its last five road games vs. teams with a sub-.500 home record.
- 7-2 ATS in its last nine games after allowing 280 or more passing yards in its previous game.
- 4-1 ATS in its last five games after allowing 40 or more points in its previous game.
Mississippi State is:
- 1-4 ATS in its last five games following an ATS win.
- 1-4 ATS in its last five games vs. above-.500 teams.
- 1-4 ATS in its last five games vs. SEC teams.