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In Statement Victory, Alabama Defense Returns to Form at Mississippi State

Following its eye-opening wake-up call against the Texas A&M Aggies, the Crimson Tide used its dose of humility to its advantage against the Bulldogs.

Saturday's win at Mississippi State came at exactly the time that Alabama football needed it most. On the opposite side of that same coin, though, so did its loss at Texas A&M the week prior.

After losing its first regular-season game since the 2019 Iron Bowl, Crimson Tide fans woke up on a dismal Sunday morning on Oct. 10 with many questions in their minds. Many were quick to point fingers at poor play-calling on the offensive side of the football. Others identified sloppy defensive play in the later portions of the game as the culprit of Alabama's demise.

Whatever the case, the Crimson Tide had lost 41-38 to the Aggies, almost two calendar years removed from its most recent loss. While the fans languished in their despair, the same could not be said for their team.

Last Monday, Nick Saban and his Crimson Tide got to work. After weeks of referencing 'The Poor Mes' and lack of effort and discipline among his ranks, Saban began to rework his team like a general preparing his troops for battle. After starting the season 5-1, Alabama's College Football Playoff hopes were in jeopardy. When the team lost, the jubilant cries of joy from college football fans could be heard across in every corner of the nation.

Alabama might have lost on Oct. 9 in College Station, but it wouldn't this week in Starkville. A Mississippi State team was preparing its troops for battle as well, and with an extra week to prepare, the Bulldogs seemed primed and ready for a good fight.

If Saban were his team's general, then his leaders on the team were his sergeants. Chiefly among these was linebacker Will Anderson Jr., a player who had consistently provided the best performances on defense for Alabama in every game thus far this season.

On Monday, Anderson sent out his marching orders detailing his expectations for his Crimson Tide defense.

"We have to do a better job," Anderson said to the media via Zoom. "Football has to be the most important thing. That’s the biggest thing when you come to Alabama, that’s the standard. Football is the most important thing, and that’s what I expressed to the team, and that’s what it has to be, and it’s going to be that."

And so, it was that. Enough said.

This past Saturday night in Starkville, the Alabama defense allowed Mississippi State to visit the red zone on only two occasions. Neither of those visits resulted in touchdowns. In the Crimson Tide's 49-9 victory over the Bulldogs, a statement had been sent out to the college football world that had been celebrating its loss just seven days prior.

The message? That this team shouldn't be ruled out just yet.

Alabama gave up a total of 299 yards to Mississippi State, but every single bit of those yards came through the air. On the night, the Bulldogs finished with a grand summary of -1 rushing yards. Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers was sacked seven times for a loss of 53 yards — four of those sacks were registered by Anderson. Rogers was also intercepted three times, with two of those interceptions belonging to defensive back Jordan Battle and one of them being returned for a touchdown.

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In a season of ups and downs so far for the Alabama defense, Saturday night was arguably its highest point yet. It certainly served as stark contrast to the loss the week prior, as evidenced by Anderson after the game.

"I think we were all locked in," Anderson said. "We were all focused. And I know, like, most of my interviews I've been saying 'Football has to be the most important thing', and I think definitely this week football was the most important thing and we just didn't want that feeling that we felt last week."

All season, Saban and leaders on the team like Anderson have been harping on the team for not living up to 'The 'Bama Standard'. As defined by Saban himself as the standard of excellence that he expects from his players on each and every play, the standard had not been seen for the duration of a game for most of the season.

There had certainly been plays and drives that had exhibited the qualities of the 'Bama standard. Heck, there had even been whole quarters of games that had displayed as much. However, there had not yet been a full game that lived up to those high expectations.

According to Saban, though, Saturday night in Starkville marked the first time this season that his team had lived up to his program's standard.

"These guys have a lot of pride, there’s a lot of culture in the program here that our fans, our former players, people in the organization, people at the university expect us to compete at a certain level," Saban said. "We call it 'The 'Bama Standard'. So I thought we did that. We did it for 60 minutes. We didn’t get relieved. We didn’t relax in the game, which is really the first time all year that we really have done this the way we’d like to do it."

The season is still far from over for Alabama, and five more skirmishes with opposing forces still stand in-between the Crimson Tide and a trip to Atlanta to play for the SEC Championship. It won't be an easy path, but if the team plays like it did on Saturday night at Mississippi State, then the loss at Texas A&M might be looked upon in the rearview mirror as a revelation rather than a stumbling block.

The loss at the hands of the Aggies could not have come at a better time for the Crimson Tide. With overconfidence being one of its largest weaknesses, Alabama was in need of a dose of humility.

Saban noted as much on Saturday night after the Mississippi State game.

"You ever get humbled?" Saban asked. "I think humility is a great thing for all of us to have. I think sometimes when you have success, it’s human nature to sometimes think you don’t have to continue to do things the right way, create the right habits, get sloppy. And then the redemption is not good, which we learned last week."

Few things are scarier in college football than an Alabama football team with a statement to be made. And if the Crimson Tide takes the same approach that it did to the Bulldogs with it to every game for the rest of the season, then the battle plans are already drawn up.

It's simply up to Saban and his troops to exercise them.