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Focus key for No. 18 MSU vs. No. 1 Alabama

 

Brett Hudson

 

 

STARKVILLE -- Dez Harris doesn't concern himself with what it means to play Alabama. 

 

The Mississippi State football team's senior linebacker and leading tackler has never played Alabama when it wasn't in the thick of the national championship race. His most recent experience was his worst, a 51-3 loss last season in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. 

 

Harris remains undeterred by names on uniforms. 

 

"We don't look at teams. We come out and play our ball," he said. "We don't think about stuff like that. We just look forward to playing a game." 

 

No. 1 Alabama (9-0, 4-0 Southeastern Conference, No. 2 College Football Playoff) will be the next opponent for No. 18 MSU (7-2, 3-2, No. 18) at 6 p.m. Saturday (ESPN) at Davis Wade Stadium. The game marks the first time this season MSU is coming off a victory that isn't a blowout. On Saturday, MSU defeated Massachusetts 34-23 in its first game decided by fewer than 21 points. 

 

Several players and coaches have theorized MSU's early blowout victories, particularly the 30-point beatdown of LSU, left it unprepared to handle that level of success and primed it for a letdown that led to consecutive losses to Georgia and Auburn. 

 

"We went through some growing pains early in the season about how to handle success," Rankin said. "Today was our first fight, and it came at the perfect time." 

 

MSU will get plenty of fight against Alabama, which leads the SEC in scoring offense and is second in rushing. This weekend also will mark the 10th anniversary of MSU's last victory against Alabama, a 17-12 win on Nov. 10, 2007, in Starkville. 

 

MSU, which opened as a 14-point underdog Sunday, has covered the spread two of the last three times Alabama has played in Starkville. 

 

MSU will need to recapture the momentum it had following a 35-14 victory against Texas A&M in College Station, Texas, that set the stage for a shot at a 10-win season, if not more. Against UMass, MSU struggled against a team that entered the game with six losses, even if the Minutemen had lost by more than nine points only once. 

 

Mullen knows he will need his players and coaches to be 100 percent focused. 

 

"That's a pretty good team we're playing next week," Mullen said. "They're tough to prepare for." 

 

Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson

 

 

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