STARKVILLE – When Mississippi State unexpectedly took the field Saturday night in black uniforms, Bulldog fans cheered euphorically. It was the last time they’d get so worked up.
In front of a record crowd of 58,103 at Davis Wade Stadium, the new look didn’t help one bit in a 31-3 loss to No. 3 Alabama, which left State black and blue and continued what the Crimson Tide hopes is a march to the BCS title game in Pasadena, Calif.
Alabama (10-0, 7-0 SEC), which already has a date set with No. 1 Florida in the SEC title game on Dec. 5, kept the MSU fans on their rears and the Bulldogs on their heels. Mark Ingram, a Heisman Trophy candidate, gained 149 yards on 19 carries – 70 of that on a late touchdown run after the game was well in hand – and got good help from Trent Richardson, who had 47 yards on 11 carries.
The Bulldogs (4-6, 2-4), who must now beat Arkansas and Ole Miss to become bowl eligible, were held to 213 total yards, including 114 on the ground. Senior tailback Anthony Dixon rushed for 81 yards on 22 carries.
He had a school-record 252 yards last time out against Kentucky.
“I thought at times we had a good, decent plan for some things,” coach Dan Mullen said. “Anthony obviously ran hard. Ran real hard, made a bunch of plays. They did a good job of keeping us out of rhythm.”
Alabama totaled 444 yards and was coldly efficient. Quarterback Greg McElroy had a second consecutive strong outing, completing 13 of 18 for 192 yards, two TDs and no interceptions.
“Overall, all the plays they got we pretty much made mistakes, but they did what they wanted to do,” MSU linebacker Jamar Chaney said. “They controlled the clock, controlled the ball, and every now and then they got a big play in there, but that’s how they play and that’s how their offense goes.”
MSU missed some early opportunities. Its first drive died at Alabama’s 35-yard line when a quick snap bounced off quarterback Tyson Lee’s legs on fourth down.
State was 0 for 5 on third down attempts in the first half and had just 83 total yards at the break.
After Leigh Tiffin’s 39-yard field goal early in the third made it 17-0, Chad Bumphis took the ensuing kickoff and looked to have an 89-yard touchdown. But the officials ruled he stepped out at the Alabama 38, and the Bulldogs’ drive ended when Derek DePasquale missed a 36-yard field goal.
That summed up the night for MSU: Just couldn’t come up with the big play.
‘We’ll get better
“That was a big difference in the game,” Mullen said. “We’ll work on that, we’ll get better. Pretty soon here we’re going to be making those big plays, and when we do, great things are going to happen to our program.”
MSU had a couple of third-quarter scoring chances foiled by cornerback Marquis Johnson, who broke up two well-thrown passes intended for O’Neal Wilder in the end zone.
MSU’s last-ditch effort was thwarted early in the fourth quarter. After reaching Alabama’s 6-yard line, Lee was sacked, and State had to settle for a 34-yard DePasquale field goal with 10:35 left to make it 17-3.
Alabama answered on the very next play, with McElroy finding a wide-open Julio Jones for a 48-yard TD.
“We utilized a lot of players,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “We have to spread teams out and make them defend.”
McElroy was on target from the get-go, completing 10 of 13 for 104 yards in the first half. He found a wide open Darius Hanks for a 45-yard touchdown pass and a 7-0 lead at the 3:04 mark of the second quarter. The drive covered 80 yards.
While McElroy was solid, it was the ground game that fueled the Tide engine. Ingram and Richardson combined for 52 rushing yards on Alabama’s second scoring drive, and Ingram capped the 72-yard march with a 1-yard run at the 4:41 mark.
Alabama led 14-0 at halftime.
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal