November 13, 2013 6:57:49 AM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Dan Mullen knows the Mississippi State football team will need a new game plan from the one it had one week ago.
Last week, MSU (4-5, 1-4 Southeastern Conference) prepared for a track meet against Texas A&M and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel. This week, Mullen and the Bulldogs are preparing for a heavyweight fight when they play host to No. 1 Alabama at 6:45 p.m. Saturday (ESPN).
"It's very different," Mullen said. "You have to make sure everybody takes a lot of ice baths this week, where last week we had to stretch out an awful lot and hydrate, you were going to be running around all over the place. This week, you'd better get in that ice bath and get your body healthy because they're going to pound away at you."
Against Bowl Championship Series schools, No. 1 Alabama (9-0, 6-0) is second in the SEC in rushing at 233.14 yards per game. Sophomores T.J. Yeldon (862 yards, 12 touchdowns) and Kenyan Drake (556, seven) lead a ground game that averages more than 6 yards a carry on first and second down.
In its past four games against Alabama, MSU has allowed an average of 207.25 ypg. Last season, MSU was one of three teams to hold Alabama to less than 200 yards rushing. Alabama led 24-0 before halftime en route to a 38-7 victory in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Yeldon came out of the game early after rushing for 84 yards on 10 carries.
"Defensively, (MSU is) in the top tier of the SEC," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "They are very well coached. Dan (Mullen) has done a great job. They play hard, they are very physical, and they play with a lot of toughness, so this is a very good team. We are going to have to do a really good job of getting ready to play and play well."
In the past four games against Alabama, MSU hasn't rushed for more than 150 yards. It has averaged 1.18 yards per carry.
"They're more of a defensive team," Mullen said. "That's what they're always known for, so a great challenge on that side of the ball. They're deep. They've got five-star players as backups, they've got five-star players sitting on the bench not getting tons of reps. I think they had the one game where Johnny Manziel put up a bunch of points, made a bunch of plays running around and improvised and put up a lot of yards. Despite that, they still lead the nation, the conference, and are rated top of the nation in just about every defensive category."
The average height and weight of Alabama's starting offensive line, which is coached by former Florida International coach Mario Cristobal, is 6-foot-4 1/2 and 307.8 pounds.
"Everybody has been really focusing on that power surge coming off the ball and hitting somebody right in the mouth," Mississippi State junior offensive tackle Blaine Clausell said. "You can tell in practice that the mind-set is different this week about the physicality of a week like this."
Saban's teams have looked to capitalize on powerful offensive lines by going with a power running game early and often. The Crimson Tide have been ranked 16th, 16th, 30th, and 12th in the country in rushing the past four seasons.
Alabama likely will target the defensive line and freshman Chris Jones. The former five-star prospect played at end, tackle, and nose guard last week in a 51-41 loss to Texas A&M. His versatility has led him to being on the field for nearly every down the past couple of games. Jones is third on the team in tackles for loss with four. He also has seven quarterback hurries.
"This is a big-boy football game, and the coaches have told me Alabama is No. 1 in the country because they love that ground-and-pound style," Jones said. "We're going to have to be prepared to push back at some point because you don't let somebody just walk into your place and do that to you."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.