TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It's not that Alabama isn't taking care of business at home, the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide just aren't handling themselves in the same dominant ways. Inside of Bryant-Denny Stadium, the crimson and white have been undefeated but not unfettered.
Two of Alabama's most disappointing wins -- disappointing in the eyes of coach Nick Saban, that is -- have come at home. A 35-0 win over Western Kentucky drew the ire of the head coach, who pointed out more mistakes then successes. A 33-14 win a few weeks later over Ole Miss was the closest game the Tide have played in all season. The Rebels' uptempo, no-huddle offense made the UA defense look almost vulnerable.
With No. 11 Mississippi State scheduled to arrive in Tuscaloosa on Saturday night, the onus is on players to shore up their play in the home crimson tops and white shorts.
"This is really the first home game we've had where we're playing a team that is really a ranked team," Saban said. "We haven't played our best football at home. We've really played our best football on the road for whatever reasons. I've addressed that with the players, but I'm hopeful that we'll have the kind of excitement and enthusiasm in the stadium that will help our players from an emotional standpoint and also make it difficult for them. They are a no-huddle team again, so maybe we can affect their communication a little bit with some of the noise and inspiration that our fans can give our players."
UA center Barrett Jones said he personally likes the road environments better. He's better with the boo birds than the standing ovations, he said.
"There's a few more distractions at home," Jones explained. "On the road, it's kind of an us versus them mentality. ... The cheers don't do much for me anymore, but I love the boos."
Starting cornerback Dee Milliner hopes his teammates can turn things around and play better in front of the home crowd this weekend, especially with a talented Mississippi State team coming in town. He said he's seen great things from Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell, someone he and the rest of the secondary will have to account for as the Bulldogs try to move the ball through the air.
"He’s more of a great passer this year than he was last year," Milliner said. "Their offense is really clicking right now on all cylinders, so we’ll try to slow them down, show them different schemes, try to mix them up, and hopefully we can do a great job of that and throw them off."
If Alabama comes with anything but its best against Mississippi State, the Tide could be in for an upset. The Bulldogs have circled this game on the calendar as a chance to show the nation what they're about, a chance to show that they're better than beating up on teams from the Sun Belt.
"It's a great opportunity for our guys," Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. "We look at this as a championship-caliber game."
Saban isn't seeing things quite the same way. Then again, his team isn't the underdog. The Bulldogs may play with a chip on their shoulder, but Saban doesn't want his team doing anything out of the ordinary.
"We can't control what they do. We can't control what they're trying to prove. We don't have any control over that," Saban said in a raised voice. "We have control over how we think, what we do, how we do it, how we compete in a game.
"I have a tremendous amount of respect for their coach and their program and everything they've done. And we think we'll get their very best game, no doubt. But, saying all that, what's that got to do with how we play? We should be trying to play the best we can play because of what we have at stake, what we want to accomplish, what we want to do, what's important to us."
Coach and quarterback were on the same page. AJ McCarron said he expects the best from every team the Tide face, because, well, they are who they are.
"That comes with being the University of Alabama, playing for Coach Saban, it just comes with the territory," McCarron said. "Mississippi State is a great team. They're undefeated for a reason. They've got great players on both sides of the ball and they can make plays. So we're going to have to be on top of our game and come out ready to play."