First Look: Alabama

Fpr the second time this season, Erin Andrews and friends come to Starkville for a Saturday ‘night ESPN showdown against a highly ranked team. We’ll get into this at a later point, but just to throw it out there: Does this set up as a really good chance for MSU to pull an upset, or what? The Crimson Tide (9-0, 6-0 SEC) will enter Davis Wade Stadium – a packed one, no doubt – coming off a tough 24-15 win over LSU, while the Bulldogs (4-5, 2-3) are coming off a bye week.

Well, let’s break this thing down.

Game info: Davis Wade Stadium, 6 p.m., ESPN

Last meeting: Alabama 32, MSU 7 (Nov. 15, 2008, in Tuscaloosa)

Series: Alabama leads 72-18-3.

Last week: Alabama beat No. 9 LSU 24-15; MSU was idle.

Alabama on the Web: rolltide.com

Alabama blogs to follow: Tommy Deas (Tuscaloosa News), The Bama Beat (Mobile Press-Register)

Alabama on Twitter: BamaBeat

Alabama coach: Nick Saban (third year, 28-8)

3 Alabama players to watch: RB Mark Ingram, DT Terrence Cody, LB Rolando McClain

Premature review: In my Premature Preview of the Tide (No. 3 AP, No. 2 BCS), I wrote about the many holes that had to be filled. Looks like they’ve been filled more than adequately, but there are some concerns on offense. Ingram leads the SEC in rushing with 1,148 yards (127.6 ypg) and has been the workhorse. QB Greg McElroy, who’s hot start actually caused some folks to throw around the Heisman word, is currently ninth in the SEC in pass efficiency – 140 of 236 for 1,721 yards, 11 touchdowns and four interceptions. Not bad, but not inspiring, either.

WR Julio Jones has been relatively quiet, partly due to injuries, although he did have a big 73-yard TD catch against LSU to put Alabama ahead to stay. For the season, Jones has 24 catches for 331 yards and two TDs.

But this Alabama team is built on defense. It ranks second in the SEC in scoring defense (11.8 ppg), second in total defense (242.0 ypg), first in rushing defense (68.0 ypg), fifth in pass defense (174.0 ypg), and first in sacks (26). So the question is, can MSU do anything offensively against the Tide? Can RB Anthony Dixon eat up yards on the ground? Will QB Tyson Lee get pummeled like he did at Ole Miss last year? Can the offensive line handle Cody and the rest of them? As MSU coach Dan Mullen has noted, this Crimson Tide team is loaded with talent.

Those are some of the questions we’ll tackle this week. Whatever the outcome Saturday, it should be a great atmosphere. Extra tickets were sold, and we could see the DWS attendance record broken once again.

By the way, the last time ESPN came to Starkville twice in the same season: 2001. That year, MSU lost 16-14 to South Carolina and beat Ole Miss 36-28.