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Mississippi State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop discusses what stands out about No. 1 Alabama’s offense.
Tyler Horka, Clarion Ledger

STARKVILLE – Mississippi State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop knows his defense is up against the best offense in the country this week. He knows Alabama’s scoring offense would still rank top-25 nationally if the Tide had zero second-half points this season, too.

He brought that statistic up himself, unprompted. “How about this, this is amazing,” said before diving into the stat. Shoop realizes just how dynamic Alabama’s offense is. It averages over 50 points and nearly 600 total yards per game.

But Shoop, a nominee for the Broyles Award given to the best assistant coach in the nation, still isn’t backing down when No. 6 Mississippi State (6-3, 2-3 SEC) plays No. 1 Alabama (9-0, 6-0 SEC) at 2:30 p.m. in Tuscaloosa on Saturday.

“We’re going to play our game,” Shoop said. “They’re good, but we’re good too. We’re not going down there and playing on our heels or anything along those lines. We’re going to do the things that got us to this point.”

‘This point’ for Mississippi State translates to the nation’s No. 2 scoring defense and the SEC’s best total defense. Yes, even better than the one the Crimson Tide boasts on the other side. Mississippi State and Alabama are the only teams in the conference that allow less than 300 yards per game.

The Bulldogs haven’t faced an offense like Bama’s, though. The Tide average more yards per game than any other team in the country. They score more than anybody else, too.

Alabama has the Heisman Trophy front-runner in sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. He has 27 touchdowns and one interception this year. Shoop said Tagovailoa’s receivers make up the best group of wide outs in the country, too.

So what does Shoop do to combat that combination? Nothing new. He said he hasn’t talked about Alabama any differently than he’s talked about any of Mississippi State’s other opponents this season. His confidence is high no matter who lines up across from his players.

“I think we’re built to compete with these guys,” Shoop said. “Our guys are big and strong up front, and we’re fairly talented in the secondary. I think there are some good matchups that we can exploit.”

Shoop wants to turn Alabama’s balanced offensive attack into a one-dimensional threat. He said he wants to eliminate the Tide’s rushing ability. That is hard enough with two of Alabama’s running backs, Damien Harris and Najee Harris, averaging over 6.0 yards per carry. 

If State’s defensive line does take them out of the game, then Shoop believes MSU’s secondary can do its job on the back end against the best skill players State will have faced all season. 

The confident Shoop did admit that he realizes the magnitude of Saturday’s game. An upset over a No. 1 ranked team can change the perception of a program, and it can change the direction of many players’ careers.

Shoop still doesn’t want the defense to think that way, though. He wants his players to take a much narrower approach. They shouldn’t think in the context of a grand scheme or even in the context of an entire game, Shoop said.

He wants them to take this thing play by play. If the focus gets any wider, Alabama can beat the Dogs in the first two quarters, as the Tide has done to plenty of opponents this year.

“We don’t need to play perfectly,” Shoop said. “I told the guys that. They don’t need to think about it along those lines. They just need to play one snap at a time.”

Contact Tyler via email thorka@jackson.gannett.com or follow him on Twitter @tbhorka

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