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October 26, 2012
So far Alabama head coach Nick Saban has had little to complain about this season.
His Crimson Tide team is undefeated at 7-0 and sit atop the BCS standings and are defeating their opponents by nearly 33 points a game. But this week the defending national champions will welcome its most challenging opponent in undefeated Mississippi State to Bryant-Denny Stadium with first place in the SEC West on the line.
"We certainly have a challenging opponent this week in Mississippi State," Saban said. "The focus needs to be on what we need to do to get better because I think this is the best team we've played to this point. Obviously their record indicates that. They've got great balance on offense and a very good quarterback. Their defense has played as one of the best in our league and do a great job with turnovers so it's a real challenging game for us."
Saban battled with Dan Mullen's offenses while he was the coordinator at Florida and has seen his Bulldog team progress since he took over as head coach in the 2009 season. MSU went 5-7 in Mullen's first year but have posted back-to-back bowl seasons going 9-4 and 7-6 respectively.
But Saban believes the 2012 edition of Bulldog might be the most dangerous yet.
"I think it is his best team," Saban said. "Each year I think they've gotten better, better and better. I think it's an indication of the great job he's done program-wise there in terms of establishing intangibles that you need to have everybody in the organization improve personally, academically and athletically. They've done a good job of recruiting and they're a very, very good team."
State has kept things balanced on offense by passing for 235.9 yards and rushing for 181 yards per game. Saban feels that the Bulldogs offensive success so far can be credited to its offensive line.
"They are big, physical and do a great job of run blocking," Saban said. "They've got a really good scheme and are well coached. I think they've improved every game this year. We think they are a very good offensive line with the fact they can create balance. Tyler (Russell)'s done a great job of throwing it. He's a very good quarterback. They are committed to running it and have been able to run it affectively with the leading rusher in the SEC. I think the combination of all those things, you can't do any of them if the offensive line isn't playing well."
Saban and the Tide recruited Russell as a four-star recruit out of Meridian (Miss.) High School in 2009. Russell was a Parade All-American that year and is having his best season to date at Mississippi State completing 60-percent of his passes for 1,573 yards, 15 touchdowns and only one interception.
"We thought he was a really good player," Saban said. "Nothing that he has done has been a surprise to me. We thought he was a real talented guy with a really good arm. He's a good athlete and a smart guy. He's certainly demonstrated all those things with the way he's played. Obviously the more he's played, the better he's gotten. Like most players, the more they play their knowledge and consistency levels go up and he's certainly done a fantastic job for them this year."
Also helping the Bulldogs be so balanced offensively has been the play of junior running back LaDarius Perkins. Perkins leads the Southeastern Conference averaging 103.4 yards per game and has scored at least one touchdown in every game this fall. On the year Perkins has carried 125 times for 724 yards and eight touchdowns picking up 5.8 yards an attempt.
"I think he's very productive," Saban said. "He's quick, runs behind his pads and is very instinctive. He does a very good job of executing their plays that they run very affectively. We think he's as talented a guy as we've played against all year long. He's also affective in the passing game. He's a really good all-around player."