#2-ranked Alabama’s defense lived up to billing, throttling the homestanding Bulldogs to a season-low 213 yards and keeping Coach Dan Mullen’s team out of the end zone entirely. Such defensive dominance was not the whole story, though. An opportunistic Tide offense struck for a selection of long and/or fast plays that offset a game Dog effort and maintained control just about all evening.
Tide quarterback Greg McElroy continued his rise to recent prominence in the gameplan by hitting throws of 48, 45, and 42 yards, which included both his touchdown tosses. The junior avoided both sacking and turnovers while completing 13-of-18 passes for 192 yards. This proved more than sufficient to outmatch anything Mississippi State could muster.
But for good measure tailback Mark Ingram made his presence known. Routinely at first, with 79 yards and a touchdown through three periods; and then with his team up 24-3 he punctuated the victory by breaking a 70-yarder that will stretch his league-leading average out. Alabama finished with 252 ground yards and 444 total.
By contrast State was effectively contained. Not for lack of effort by RB Anthony Dixon who battled inside and outside for 81 yards. But Alabama held him under four yards average and well below his 125-yard game rate coming in. That forced State to try the air avenue where good Tide pressure and outstanding coverage made for a long evening. In fact Dixon proved the preferred target out of necessity with 59 yards on six of his team’s nine caught balls.
Alabama won the toss and deferred, and State started from the 25-yard line. QB Tyson Lee underthrew WR O’Neal Wilder breaking open deep down the right sideline, though the play wasn’t a total loss as Alabama’s Marquis Johnson interfered giving a free 15 yards. Dixon punched out 18 more over to the Tide 42. State lined up to go on 4th-and-4 but the play clock was running and Lee wasn’t ready for the snap; he recovered the ball for a short gain, just not enough.
The Crimson Tide went three-and-out as McElroy was stopped on a third-down scramble, so a 40-yard punt pinned the Bulldogs at their 16. Then a hold on first down made it the nine. Dixon turned a dump into 11 yards, and WR Chad Bumphis did even better on a short catch by slipping one tackle for 24 yards to the 44. Then it was back to the ground with Dixon rumbling for eight and across midfield. On 3rd-and-2 Chris Relf was run in at quarterback to, well, run, but the Tide defensive end jumped first for a free first down at the Tide 43.
But on 2nd-and-4 Lee overthrew WR Brandon McRae, covered by two Tiders anyway, and safety Mark Barron intercepted at the 12. A ten-yard throw to Marquis Maze, then the first big burst by Ingram covering 21 yards, dug Alabama out easily enough as they kept chugging into Bulldog territory. On 4th-and-4 at the 38 McElroy called for time; he should have called for help as blitzing S Charles Mitchell rushed him into incompletion.
State couldn’t move as Lee was sacked on 3rd-and-8. Heath Hutchins got a nice bounce to net 46 yars on the punt, to Alabama’s 21. While the Dog defense went chasing Ingram one way McElroy ran the other and out of bounds at the 45-yard line as the quarter ended. Trent Richardson muscled for another first down, and on next play State guessed pass and gambled with a cornerback blitz. Problem was two blockers kept CB Marcus Washington well away from McElroy, who had plenty time to find Darius Hanks open in the vacated zone at the 35. Hanks made the pylon at 12:48 for a 7-0 lead.
The Bulldogs couldn’t advance from their 30 and Hutchins’ punt was a line-drive but fortunately Washington stuck Javier Arenas just long enough after the ball arrived, at the Tide 28. Ingram moved the chains twice, then on 3rd-and-7 at State’s 42 Hanks dug up a low McElroy throw at the 31. Richardson slipped a series of tackles for 22 net yards, and on first-and-goal at the one Ingram squirmed through left guard for the touchdown and 14-0 score at 4:41.
Again it was three-and-through for State as Bumphis couldn’t pull in a 3rd-and-12 try from Lee. Alabama made no use of their ensuing turn either but were able to down the punt on State’s two-yard line with 78 seconds left and two timeouts. They used both around three Dixon dives to force a punt at 0:26, with Hutchins getting it off and both Tay Bowser and Damein Anderson covering. Besides, Arenas tried to advance after signaling fair-catch. The Tide wasn’t content to let the last 18 second tick away and McElroy scrambled for ten yards to the MSU 46. But time ran out on a completion well outside field goal range anyway.
The first Tide turn of the new half ought to have gone nowhere as on third down Maze caught a short throw over the middle well short of the marker. But State coverage managed to miss every tackle until S Johnathan Banks ran him out at the Bulldog 27, a 42-yard play into Leigh Tiffin’s range for an easy 39-yard field goal at 11:19 for a 17-0 lead.
For a few moments Bumphis believed he’d returned the kickoff all 88 yards for a touchdown, but he was
ruled to have ticked the left sideline at the Tide 37. As it was whistled dead there would be no replay. A ten-yard throw to Wilder got a move of chains and on first down WR Brandon Heavens was open slanting in the middle; Lee’s strike was just a bit behind incomplete. So after two Dixon dives were three yards short PK Derek DePasquale tried a 36-yard field goal that drifted leftward at 9:10.
Two direct snaps to Ingram added up to 11 yards, but after calling a third-down timeout McElroy had his throw broken up by Banks. Leon Berry fielded the punt at his 36. Dixon got free for 11 yards, his first real run since the opening quarter, and on second down Lee went long for Wilder. UA’s Johnson broke it up, barely, at the goal line, and State was soon punting with fair catch inside the Tide nine. Three Richardson runs later Alabama punted it 49 yards the other way.
On 4th-and-short Dixon hit the middle and got through to the Tide 40 and before the quarter changed Relf threw long for Wilder as well. Once more UA’s Johnson was on the spot to bat it away in the end zone, though the MSU receiver could have made a better effort on the shot. Still State was able to keep moving with first down at the 29. A Lee flip to Dixon nearly made the end zone with the back going out at the five-yard line. From there the Dogs just went backwards as Dixon lost one yard and Lee 11 on a sacking with nobody open anywhere. Relf got the 3rd-and-goal chance and found McRae, again double-covered, but everyone was outside the right sideline. With almost 11 minutes left and 17 yards from the line State opted to kick and DePasquale ended the shutout with his 34-yarder.
Any good feelings engendered by the three-pointer lasted all of 17 seconds. First it was a 46-yard kickoff return by Arenas; then McElroy seeing Jones utterly open on the post for a 48-yard touchdown strike at 10:18. Dog defensive backs Banks and Maurice Langston were met out at the numbers by their coordinator for a what-happened session, but the damage was done.
Whatever chances State had to come back ended three minutes later. Another short throw to Dixon netted good yards, 18 this time, but with 2nd-and-5 on the Tide 47 Lee’s hard throw went off Berry’s hands and into Barron’s again. Whether shaken or deflated by another turn of events the Dog defense wasn’t in position to keep Ingram from making up for an otherwise aggravating affair. He burst through traffic for a 70-yard touchdown that accounted for almost half his evening’s output, and the final points.
Berry made it a little interesting score-wise himself by returning the kickoff 78 yards, dragged down by Robby Green at Alabama’s 19. A sack of Relf left 4th-and-17 and this time there was no notion of kicking. Lee returned and threw a nice one to McRae single-covered at the one-yard line; had the wideout made any real effort it would have been a touchdown but it fell in the end zone. State’s last series ended with Relf intercepted by, who else, Johnson.
Tide defensive backs Barron and Johnson should have been game MVPs, with three picks between them and those break-ups in the end zone. Their efforts, as well as good pressure, limited Lee to 99 yards on 9-of-17 passing with two sacks. Relf only tried three throws, none caught by a Dog though one was picked off.