TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – No amount of rest or inspiration could put Mississippi State on Alabama’s level Saturday night.
The No. 11-ranked Crimson Tide, a week removed from having its dream of repeating as national champion dashed by LSU, played like a champ in a 30-10 shellacking of No. 17 MSU before a sellout crowd of 101,821 at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
The Bulldogs (7-3, 3-3 SEC), who had won six straight games coming in and had a bye week to get ready, simply weren’t themselves. Their hearts were still weighed down by the Nov. 2 death of sophomore defensive end Nick Bell, but they refused to use that as an excuse.
“I know emotionally it’s been a very trying time for us; maybe some emotions got the best of us at times, trying too hard during that game instead of doing our fundamentals,” MSU coach Dan Mullen said. “But I don’t think that was the result of why the game ended the way it did.”
The final score was largely a result of Alabama (8-2, 5-2), winner of 19 in a row at home, delivering gut blows with its offense. The Tide scored on plays of 45, 78 and 56 yards on a defense that hadn’t given up many long plays this season.
For the night, the Tide gained 452 total yards, with quarterback Greg McElroy completing 12 of 18 for 227 yards and two touchdowns.
“You can play good 85 percent of the plays, but if you don’t play good the other 15 percent, then you’re not going to be good,” said middle linebacker Chris White, who had three tackles and an interception.
The big play that put it away happened on Alabama’s first possession of the second half. Receiver Julio Jones, who up to that point had been quiet, took a handoff and dashed 56 yards for the touchdown and a 27-3 Bama lead at the 10-minute, 35-second mark.
He broke a tackle on the run, which was a theme throughout the night.
“You’re not going to miss all those tackles, give up those long plays, and win,” Mullen said.
What was frustrating for State was that it kept tailback Mark Ingram in check early on. He had just 14 rushing yards in the first half and was tackled behind the line of scrimmage five times.
But he burned MSU when he took a swing pass and raced 78 yards for a touchdown to give Alabama a 20-3 lead it took into the break.
It was the longest play of the Heisman Trophy winner’s career. He wound up with 53 rushing yards on 18 carries.
That big strike came on the heels of Marquis Maze’s 80-yard punt return for TD being negated by a penalty.
It was Maze who scored Alabama’s first touchdown. With his team up 6-3, Maze hauled in a pass, broke a tackle, and wound up with a 45-yard score at the 7:09 mark of the second quarter.
MSU’s offense, meanwhile, was start-and-stop in the first half. Of State’s five penalties through the first two quarters, four were on the offense. Quarterback Chris Relf was sacked twice and in the first quarter threw his first interception in seven games.
Relf finished 8 of 16 for 70 yards and was sacked five times on the game. MSU committed seven penalties, many of them ill-timed.
“The last time we made mistakes like that was in Baton Rouge, and the results are very similar,” Mullen said, referring to his team’s previous loss, a 29-7 setback against LSU.
The Bulldogs finished with 299 total yards – 150 passing, 149 rushing. Vick Ballard led the team with 80 yards on 19 carries.
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571
BRAD LOCKE / NEMS Daily Journal