Alabama Finishes Michigan State

In Alabama's last outing of regular season play, the Crimson Tide built a big first half lead, but couldn't hold on in the second half against Auburn. On Saturday in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Bama showed that it could hold a nice halftime advantage, albeit against a Big Ten team that is not yet ready for prime time.

Alabama rolled to a 49-7 win over Michigan State Saturday to finish the season with a 10-3 record. The Spartans, who trailed by 28-0 at halftime and by seven touchdowns late in the fourth quarter, fell to 11-2.

Michigan State Coach Mark Dantonio is building a nice program, but the Spartans were overmatched in all facets Saturday, primarily because Bama dominated on the line of scrimmage. It was a nice victory for Alabama Coach Nick Saban, who spent 10 years at Michigan State -- five as an assistant coach and five as head coach, where he was Dantonio's boss.

And it was sweet for Mark Ingram, the native of Flint, Mich., who grew up a fan of the Spartans (his father, grandfather, and mother all went to the school in East Lansing) and chose Bama over Michigan State. Ingram hasn't had a year like his 2009 Heisman Trophy winning campaign, but he was sharp in becoming Bama's all-time leader in rushing touchdowns with two runs to the end zone.

No one was mistaking Alabama's appearance in the Capital One Bowl against Michigan State on the first day of 2011 for the 2010 Crimson Tide being in the BCS Championship Game, but there was a familiar figure making a key play to turn what could have been a nail-biter into a comfortable lead.

Courtney Upshaw fell on the fumble against Texas at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena last year when the Tide was nursing a 24-21 lead late in the fourth quarter. Bama went on to a 37-21 win.

In the second quarter against Michigan State, the Tide had a 14-0 lead, but the Spartans had driven to a first and goal situation. It was still first and goal at the seven on third down when Upshaw burst through, hit Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins, forcing a fumble. The Spartans recovered, but not until the ball had bounded back 30 yards. On fourth-and-goal, MSU was forced to punt.

Upshaw, a junior outside linebacker, was named the Capital One Bowl Most Valuable Player by virtue of his performance in Alabama's victory. Upshaw finished the game with five tackles including three tackles for loss for 29 yards and two sacks for 17 yards, with a forced fumble.

It continued a trend for Upshaw, who now has five sacks in the last two games after racking up three sacks in the first half against Auburn in Alabama's previous game.

As the first half developed, that goalline stand may not have been needed. The Tide dominated from the start.

The domination was reflected in the statistics. Alabama had total offense of 67 plays for 546 yards, an average of 8.1 yards per play. Michigan State, which finished with minus 48 yards rushing, had 57 plays for 171 total yards, an average of 3.0 per play. Bama had 275 yards rushing and 271 passing.

Eddie Lacy, Bama's fourth tailback, finished as the top rusher with five carries for 86 yards and two touchdowns. Mark Ingram had 12 runs for 59 yards and a 30-yard pass reception.

Greg McElroy finished his sterling Alabama quarterback career completing 13 of 17 passes for 220 yards with one touchdown, no interceptions and no sacks. Top receivers were Marquis Maze with four catches for 77 yards, Preston Dial with four catches for 55 yards, and Julio Jones with three catches for 49 yards. Jones also rushed two times for 36 yards, including a 35-yard touchdown run.

Alabama took the opening kickoff and drove 79 yards in 17 plays, taking 6:40 off the clock. Ingram scored the first of his touchdowns from a yard out after Trent Richardson had gotten the first two cracks on the first-and-goal situation. Ingram went in from a yard out and Jeremy Shelley kicked the Tide to a 7-0 lead. Bama started the game and the drive with McElroy completing a 13-yard pass to tight end Preston Dial. The Tide was bailed out by a pass interference call and McElroy hit Marquis Maze for gains of 19 and 13 yards in the drive before turning it over to Richardson and Ingram.

Michigan State made a nice drive into Bama territory with its first possession, but one of the nation's top interception men, Crimson Tide safety Robert Lester, picked off a Kirk Cousins pass at the 16 and returned it 22 yards to the Alabama 38.

McElroy took Bama 62 yards in eight plays to a 14-0 lead. The quarterback hit Julio Jones on passes of 14 and 6 yards at the end of the first quarter, then connected with Jones for 28 yards on the first play of the second quarter. From the eight, Richardson ran it in.

It looked like Bama had a quick touchdown when Michigan State tight end Brian Linthicum was hit by Lester and fumbled. The ball was picked up and run into the end zone by Nico Johnson. But before Alabama could kick an extra point, the Big 12 officiating crew had a review of the play and ruled that the tight end had not caught the ball. Michigan State then drove to the Tide 7 where Upshaw's hit stopped the drive.

After the fourth-and-goal 38-yard punt to the end zone, Alabama went 80 yards in seven plays. Ingram got the drive started with runs of 8 and 12 yards, McElroy completed a 12-yard pass to Dial, and then hit Ingram on a short pass that the tailback turned into a 30-yard gain to the Michigan State six. Ingram ran it in on first down for his second touchdown and 42nd career rushing touchdown, which broke the Alabama record held by Shaun Alexander (1996-99). It was 21-0.

When Alabama got the ball back at the Michigan State 44 with 5:10 to play, the thought was that Bama had time to get another score. No kidding. It took just 1:20. On third and one, Richardson took a pitch running to the right, tossed it back to Julio coming to the left. Jones went down the left sideline for a 35-yard touchdown and a 28-0 Alabama halftime lead.

Any thoughts of a second half letdown were pretty much dismissed early in the third quarter. Bama held Michigan State on downs, then marched 79 yards in only four plays. Ingram started the march with a 14-yard run, McElroy completed a pass to Preston Dial who leaped over a Michigan State defender on a 24-yard gain, and then McElroy completed a 37-yard touchdown pass to Marquis Maze to make it 35-0.

Other important things that happened in the third quarter were that McElroy was taken out of the game with nine minutes to play in the quarter (replaced by A.J. McCarron), and punter Cody Mandell made his first appearance with seven and a half minutes remaining in the stanza.

McCarron did get the Tide into the end zone in the third quarter as Bama entered the final period with a 42-0 lead. Demetrius Goode did most of the rushing work in a 10-play, 58-yard drive. From the Michigan State 12, Eddie Lacy rook it up the middle for the touchdown.

Lacy had another big touchdown with just under nine minutes to play when he burst up the middle, broke a tackle, and went 62 yards for a touchdown and 49-0 lead. The 84-yard drive took just three plays.

Michigan State got on the board with 5:45 to play when the third Spartans quarterback -- Keith Nichol, who had switched from quarterback to wide receiver when he was beaten out by Kirk Cousins -- had to take over. (Both Cousins and his back-up, Andrew Maxwell, were knocked out of the game.) Nichol completed a 49-yard touchdown pass to Bennie Fowler for the final margin of 49-7.

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