Alabama beating Mississippi State is not exactly "Man Bites Dog" news. The Crimson Tide now has 70 victories against the Bulldogs, against only 15 losses and three ties in the series that dates from 1922.
But wins have been rare and newsworthy for Alabama this season. The win improved the Tide to 4-6 overall and 2-4 in SEC play. Mississippi State continued to slide, its record falling to 2-7, 1-4 in SEC play.
Next week Bama will host nationally fourth-ranked LSU at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa. It is no surprise that the Bengal Tigers, 8-1 overall and 4-1 in the SEC, had an open date before playing Alabama. Next Saturday's game will kick off shortly after 6:45 p.m. CST with national television coverage by the cable network, ESPN.
The game was almost certainly the last in which former Alabama player Jackie Sherrill, the retiring head coach of Mississippi State, will coach against his alma mater.
Bama's win was its first road victory of the season. It also broke a three-game Alabama losing streak in Starkville.
Alabama got the whip hand early on an unlikely play. Facing third and 16 from its own 14-yard line, Tide quarterback Brodie Croyle threw a quick out pass to wide receiver Zach Fletcher. Fletcher eluded the cornerback, zipped down the sidelines, then cut back across the field for an 86-yard touchdown pass play that is fourth longest in Alabama history. When Brian Bostick kicked the extra point (out of new holder Alex Fox's spot) the Tide had a 7-0 lead with only 1:41 having elapsed.
Three plays later a pass by State quarterback Kevin Fant was tipped by nickel back Ramzee Robinson and intercepted by Charlie Peprah at the State 33-yard line. Three plays after that Croyle connected with freshman Tyrone Prothro on a 17-yard touchdown pass.
Bostick missed on a 39-yard field goal attempt as a familiar kicking game problem – the high snap – upset the timing. The ball just missed getting through, hitting the upright. In the second quarter Bostick made it 17-0 with a 38-yard field goal.
Bama was able to take a 24-0 lead to intermission as the Tide got its second Croyle-to-Fletcher touchdown pass. Alabama had it fourth-and-six at State's 32-yard line. The Bulldogs blitzed and Croyle got the pass away quickly. The State cornerback gambled on the interception, and when he missed Fletcher had an easy jaunt to the end zone.
After a scoreless third quarter, the Tide got two touchdowns in the final period, including one in the final 1:19 witnessed primarily by the contingent of Alabama followers making up the disappointing crowd generously announced as 48,242.
Alabama went 88 yards in 15 plays to re-establish momentum after the Bulldogs had begun to stir in the third quarter. Shaud Williams went in from three yards out with 12:50 remaining in the game.
Alabama's final score was set up by a second interception off a tipped ball. This Mississippi State pass went off the pads of the intended receiver, hit the foot of Bama linebacker Derrick Pope (who was on the ground), and popped up into the hands of back-up safety Chris James, whose play is usually restricted to special teams play. James ran it back to the State 43. Bama used a number of back-ups in its final scoring drive, including putting first team tailback Tim Castille at tailback. With Spencer Pennington seeing his first play at quarterback since the October 4 Georgia game, the Tide went 43 yards in seven plays, including a clutch Pennington-to-tight end Greg McLain pass for 28 yards and a first down on fourth down. Castille scored on a six-yard run.
As would be expected, Alabama dominated statistically, The Tide had 19 first downs to 10 for Mississippi State. Bama rushed 50 times for 90 yards, while the Bulldogs' 20 runs netted only 24 yards. The Tide had 10 completions in 16 pass attempts with one interception for 211 yards, State 16 completions in 31 attempts with two interceptions for 128 yards. Alabama had 66 plays for 401 yards, the Bulldogs 51 plays for 152 yards.
Oddly, Alabama – one of the least-penalized teams this year – was flagged nine times for 71 yards while Mississippi State -- one of the most penalized teams – had eight penalties for 78 yards. The Tide had an eight-and-a-half-minute advantage in time of possession, 34:15 to 25:45.
Alabama got a good one-two punch at tailback with Shaud Williams rushing 25 times for 89 yards and Ray Hudson running 12 times for 79 yards. Croyle completed nine of 14 passes for 183 yards and Pennington one of two tries for 28 yards. Fletcher was the leading Bama receiver with his two catches for 118 yards.
Bo Freelend was not called upon to punt in the first half. He had three second half punts for a 39.0 average, putting two of the three inside the State 20.
Mississippi State got into Alabama territory only three times, including reaching the Bama 43 on the final play of the first half. The Bulldogs penetrated to the Alabama 34 in the fourth quarter, but ended up on that series with a fourth-and-34, punting from the Bulldogs' 42. State wide receiver Justin Jenkins, who came into the game as the SEC's leading receiver in both catches per game and yards per game, was held to two receptions for nine total yards. The net 24 yards rushing by State was all attributable to a 24-yard end-around run by Omarr Conner. The highly-publicized tailback tandem of Jerious Norwood (five carries, nine yards) and Nick Turner (three carries, five yards) was held in check by the Bama defense.
Derrick Pope led the Tide in tackles. The senior linebacker had six primary stops – one for a six-yard loss -- and assisted on three others. Defensive end Antwan Odom had two sacks.
Alabama had a sprinkling of new faces in the line-up in addition to Fox as holder. Brandon Brooks, the 5-4, 163-pound wide receiver, got his first duty as a punt return man and had four runbacks for 56 yards. Fourth-year junior Danny Martz got his first career start, going the distance at right guard in place of the injured Dennis Alexander, who missed the game with an ankle injury. Atlas Herrion started and played the whole game at left tackle in place of Wesley Britt, who is out for the year with a broken leg suffered in Bama's last outing against Tennessee. Juwan Garth, who has started a few games at linebacker this year, did not play against the Bulldogs because of a pulled muscle.