Houston Nutt had the opportunity to watch Alabama practice for the Cotton Bowl, and he came away feeling just as you would expect: impressed.
“Well, I had a chance to go against Nick quite a few times, and I love the way he goes about business,” the CBS college football analyst told Damon Amendolara, who was filling in as host of CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “The thing that I’ll say about Alabama’s group is they’re very focused. They have a businesslike attitude that extends from Coach Saban. To me, it was kind of like a Tuesday practice. It was full pads. Everybody was very focused (and) getting after it offensively, defensively (and on) special teams. They have a tremendous respect for Michigan State. They know it’s going to be a tough, physical game, but what I took away from it is just a tremendous attitude, tremendous focus.”
No. 2 Alabama (12-1) will square off against No. 3 Michigan State (12-1) on Thursday at 8 p.m. ET. Both teams are more than solid defensively, but don’t be surprised if the offenses find a way to put some points on the board.
“I think this is going to be two well-coached football teams that will probably be in the 20s, maybe early 30s – but nothing more than that,” Nutt said. “Both these teams feel like they have a knack for finding a way to make a special play at the right time, especially Michigan State. But Calvin Ridley is a guy that can take the top off very, very fast. He runs good routes and has gotten better and better. When people tend to crowd the line of scrimmage, which you know they’re going to do with a big back like Derrick Henry, it’s where you’re going to get some one-on-one opportunities.”
Indeed, Henry, who won the Heisman, and Ridley, who caught 75 balls for 893 yards and five touchdowns, is quite the one-two punch. Defensively, Alabama has 57 three-and-outs in its last nine games.
“Connor Cook (has) got to make some plays down the field,” Nutt said, “because (this) front seven is the best they’ve seen all year.”
Still, DA finds it hard to believe that Alabama is nearly a 10-point favorite. So does Nutt.
“I’m with you,” he said. “I think this is a much closer game. I think it’s two tough, physical football teams who both know how to win. Michigan State has found ways to win when they weren’t supposed to. They were actually one play away from being undefeated. So they always seem to play that underdog card. These guys expect that. They’ve lived with it from playing Ohio State. It’s like no matter who they play, they’re the underdog. So they probably welcome it, they embrace it, and they play pretty good being the underdog.”