STARKVILLE — Dan Mullen’s motto for winning in the Southeastern Conference always has started with winning home games.
Mississippi State’s third-year football coach acknowledged Monday it was about time his Bulldogs squad practiced what it preached.
Mullen and MSU will try to start a trend at 6:45 tonight (ESPN) when they play host to the No. 4 University of Alabama at Davis Wade Stadium.
“It’s not like we’re not trying to (and) we’re working awful hard at it,” Mullen said. “There’s a reason these teams are winning national championships and are ranked one, two in the country. It’s because they’re pretty good. I do think the benefit we have is it’s my third year here and we’ve played a bunch of top-10 teams. We’re used to playing in these big games against high-profile, very talented teams. We’ve been close a bunch. We’ve just got to take that next step and find a way to finish it off.”
MSU (5-4, 1-4 SEC ) is 2-15 against top-25 teams under Mullen. It is riding a nine-game losing streak, is 0-4 against the top 10, and has lost each of its first two games against Alabama by a combined score of 61-13.
“I do think the benefit we have is, it’s my third year here, and we’ve
played a bunch of top-10 teams — whether they were ranked at the time or eventually end up that way,” Mullen said. “A lot of teams, maybe you get one shot or one big game a year. For us, we get six teams against top-20 teams.”
Alabama coach Nick Saban insists his team won’t have a letdown after a 9-6 overtime loss to No. 1 LSU last week in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The Crimson Tide missed four field goals and had uncharacteristic mistakes on offense.
“It wasn’t about their effort. It wasn’t about their toughness,” Saban said. “It wasn’t about their intensity. It wasn’t about any of that. It was based on, in critical situations in the game were you able to focus on doing your job in a critical time in the game, like you needed to, to do it correctly? That is what really gets you results, so you got to play smart. That’s what we need to take from all this.”
Alabama (8-1, 4-1) is second in the SEC in total offense and No. 1 in rushing. It is No. 1 in the nation in total, rushing, passing, and scoring defense. None of these statistics give MSU coaches much to lean on for confidence.
“It’s not encouraging, but we got to go find a way to make plays and win the game,” Mullen said. “They have a lot of experience, and when all your starters are juniors or seniors you know they have played in a lot of big games. It’s easy to see why they are so dominant on defense.”
Last year, MSU held Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram to 53 rushing yards on 18 carries, Alabama still found the big plays to earn a 30-10 victory.
“I think last year we had four dropped passes,” Mullen said. “We moved the ball OK but we gave up three 40- or 50-plus yard touchdowns. You take those three touchdowns away and it is a 10-10 ballgame. It isn’t that we’ve played poorly against them. What has occurred is we’ve made a mistake and they’ve capitalized on that mistake.”
NOTE: Alabama junior running back Trent Richardson was named Friday one of 10 semifinalists for the 2011 Doak Walker Award.
The award goes to the nation’s top running back. Richardson’s selection as a semifinalist is the fourth straight for an Alabama running back. Glen Coffee (2008) and Mark Ingram (2009 and 2010) also were semifinalists. Ingram was a finalist in 2009.
Richardson has rushed for 1,078 yards and 17 touchdowns this season, averaging 6.3 yards per carry. He leads the SEC in rushing at 119.78 yards per game and ranks 10th nationally.