Tide Gets Sixth Win

An Alabama football win over Mississippi State isn't ordinarily big news since the Crimson Tide has an all-time record of 71-15-3 mark against the Bulldogs. But Saturday night's 30-14 win over Mississippi State in Bryant-Denny Stadium was cause for celebration in Tuscaloosa.

The win improved Alabama's overall record to 6-3 and the Tide's Southeastern Conference mark to 3-3. Six victories means Bama will be eligible to participate in a bowl game this year after two years of post-season ban owing to NCAA sanctions. Alabama had been off last week.

Although bowl speculation can be put off a few weeks (selection day is December 5), most believe Alabama will go to the Music City Bowl in Nashville or the Independence Bowl in Shreveport if the Tide does not win another game. Bama has two regular season games remaining.

And as expected, Alabama Head Coach Mike Shula said, "We've got to put this one behind us and get ready to play again. And we've got to get healthy."

He said, "This win means we're taking steps forward. We're not where we need to be by any means."

The Bulldogs, coached by former Tide All-America Sylvester Croom, a native of Tuscaloosa, fell to 3-6 overall and 2-4 in SEC play. The loss broke a two-game winning streak, including a victory over previously 20th-ranked Florida. State has now lost 16 consecutive SEC road games.

Alabama returns to action next Saturday against LSU in Baton Rouge, the final road trip of the season for Bama. The Bengal Tigers, 6-2 overall and 3-2 in SEC play, had an open week. Kickoff against the defending national champions will be at 6:45 p.m. CST with television coverage by ESPN.

Alabama rode the hard running of sophomore halfback Kenneth Darby and an unlikely trick play from the Crimson Tide offense to the victory. Darby rushed 36 times for 200 yards and one touchdown. The trick play was wide receiver Tyrone Prothro running one play from quarterback and keeping the ball at right end for a 21-yard touchdown run.

Although Alabama sputtered at times on offense, Bama dominated statistically. The Tide had 19 first downs (12 rushing, five passing, two by penalty) to 12 for State (eight rush, four pass). Bama had net rushing of 47 carries for 260 yards, State 41 runs for 126 yards. Bama had 119 passing yards to Mississippi State's 114. In total offense, Alabama had 62 plays for 379 yards (6.1 per play), the Bulldogs 61 plays for 240 yards (3.9 per play). Both teams lost a fumble, but Alabama's recovery led to a touchdown and the Tide defense made up for the fumble by the Tide punting team. Alabama was penalized eight times for 65 yards and State 10 times for 80 yards. Bama had a slight advantage in time of possession, 31:02 to 28:58. Bama was good on only four of 12 third down opportunities, while State was good on six of 16.

Alabama went into the game leading the nation in total defense, but on State's first drive Crimson Tide defenders looked like a paper defense. Bulldogs halfback Jerious Norwood is one of the best in the SEC and looked like it taking the fourth play of the game for 50 yards and a Mississippi State touchdown for a 7-0 lead. After a "panic runback" of a fumbled kickoff return, the Bulldogs had gone 82 yards in just four plays and 1:44.

Although the Bulldogs would have their offensive moments, the Tide defense seemed to settle down after the first drive. And after several false starts, the Bama offense finally got going behind the running of Darby.

Although Bama didn't tie the score until early in the second quarter, the Tide started rolling on its final possession of the first quarter. A 22-yard Darby run got Bama inside the Mississippi State 10 in the final moments of the first quarter. A false start penalty, though hampered the effort and Alabama had to settle for a 24-yard field goal by Brian Bostick.

Alabama took the lead on a quick 82-yard drive. Bama used only four plays and 1:37 to get a touchdown and a 10-7 lead. After Darby was held for no gain on first down, the sophomore halfback ripped off a 45-yard run to the Bulldogs' 37. Aaron Johns gave Darby a breather, and the true freshman went 16 yards to the State 21 on his first carry of the night.

Then came the surprise. Although Shula had told sportswriters a few days earlier that Alabama had not done any work with a player like Prothro at quarterback, Prothro went under center and kept the ball at right end on a 21-yard touchdown run to put Bama up by three points.

Shula said, "I was asked by reporters if we were doing anything like that. I could have said, ‘Yeah,' but I didn't want to." He said the call to use Prothro was Offensive Coordinator David Rader's idea.

During Bama's next possession, during a stop in play, it was announced that Darby had 17 carries for 135 yards. Bama was at the Mississippi State 15-yard line at the time, and a play later Darby had 18 carries for 150 yards and a touchdown and Alabama had a 17-7 lead.

Alabama had gone 85 yards in six plays, taking only 2:01. Spencer Pennington connected with Keith Brown on a 40-yard pass, a key play in the scoring march. It was Bama's longest pass play since Tide quarterback Brodie Croyle was injured and lost for the season in the third game of the year.

The Tide had an outside chance to tack on additional points when Bama got the ball back at State's 44-yard line with just under two minutes to play. But a Pennington interception ended the opportunity.

It couldn't have started any worse in the second half. Bama's offense couldn't move, the Tide had a poor punt, and then the defense allowed a quick Mississippi State touchdown. Although Ramzee Robinson seemed to be in good position, he was unable to break up a 28-yard pass from Omarr Conner to Tee Milons that closed the score to 17-14.

Bama moved back into scoring position inside the Mississippi State 20, but with 5:24 to go in the third quarter had to settle for a 34-yard Bostick field goal and a 20-14 lead.

Alabama's punt return work has been poor all year. Brandon Brooks fumbled a State punt after Bama's defense had done a great job. It gave the ball to the Bulldogs at Bama's 41. Bama's defense held again and on State's ensuing punt Prothro was deep for the Tide. It was immaterial as State shanked a punt 14 yards to the Alabama 36. But later in the game Prothro got a return opportunity and ran it back 19 yards.

While Alabama's defense was playing very well, the Tide offense went in the tank in the second half. But Bostick got another field goal, a 47-yard effort, to give Bama a little breathing room at 23-14 with 7:19 to play.

But when Mark Anderson forced a fumble and Wallace Gilberry recovered for Alabama at the Mississippi State nine-yard line, the offense was expected to get points. And with 5:28 to play the offense delivered. After two Darby runs (which gave him 36 carries for 200 yards), Pennington hit fullback LéRon McClain on a four-yard touchdown pass, the final score and a 30-14 lead.

Shula said it was a big game to get the sixth win. He also praised his team for fighting through some injuries, including a couple suffered during the game. "A lot of guys out there who weren't 100 per cent healthy laid it on the line," Shula said. "We didn't play our best game, but we found a way to win."

In addition to Darby's 36 carries for 200 yards, Bama got five runs for 26 yards from Johns. Pennington completed nine of 15 passes for 119 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Keith Brown had three receptions for 51 yards.

Darby said, "Mississippi State came out ready to play. They played hard to the very end. We had our minds set on winning."

Gilberry had three sacks in the game. Cornelius Wortham was in on 11 tackles and DeMeco Ryans and Carlos Andrews (who replaced Peprah and went virtually the entire game at strong safety) were both in on seven

State's Croom was asked if he was glad to have the game and the hoopla of him being a former Alabama player (and candidate for the Bama head coaching job when Shula got it) behind him. "As long as I'm at Mississippi State and we play Alabama, it will never be behind me," he said. "I can deal with that. Plus, in a lot of ways, I'm not going to let it be behind me because I want to be where Alabama is. I want Mississippi State to play like Alabama. I want us to expect to win as Alabama expects to win. I want the kids who come to Mississippi State to expect to wear championship rings just like they do here at Alabama."

TIDE NOTES: Bowl games represented at the Tide's game Saturday night were the Outback, the Peach, the Independence, and the Houston.

With 2:49 to play in the game, sixth-year wide receiver Antonio Carter, who has missed more than two years of play with injuries, made an appearance at wide receiver. He was not involved in any plays as the Bama offense was running out the clock.

Regular starting tight end Clint Johnston was held out of Saturday night's game. During the game no fewer than three Tide players had to leave the game with injuries, including starting strong safety Charlie Peprah in the first quarter and starting center J.B. Closner in the third quarter who did not return. Offensive tackle Wesley Britt went to the lockerroom at the end of the first quarter, but soon returned to action.

The win assures Alabama a wining regular season record. Bama has had 92 previous winning seasons. This is the 110th year Alabama has had a football season. (Alabama went 9-3-1 in 1993, but that is not included as a winning season because NCAA sanctions forced Alabama to forfeit eight wins and a tie.

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