A Win Is A Win

Those who think the kicking game and defense win football games and that offense is just for show got some verification in Starkville Saturday. In the first half Alabama had offense galore, but had only a field goal lead on Mississippi State. By the time the Bama offense got the ball in the second half, the special teams and defense had both scored a touchdown to key the Crimson Tide's 17-0 victory.

Matt Miller scored an Alabama touchdown on a Mississippi State kickoff return and Rudy Griffin scored a Crimson Tide touchdown on a Bulldogs' pass to key Alabama's ninth consecutive victory. The offense did not have a touchdown. It was the Tide's first shutout since last year's 52-0 win over Western Carolina, but it was the second consecutive shutout of the Bulldogs in Starkville. Alabama won 38-0 in 2003.

On the kickoff to start the second half, State's Derek Pegues took the kickoff at the five-yard line and returned it to the 15, where he was hit and stripped of the ball by Tide freshman Jimmy Johns. The ball was neatly scooped up by Matt Miller, who had a 15-yard fumble return touchdown.

Moments later, State's redshirt freshman quarterback Mike Henig, under pressure on a second-and-13 play from the Bulldogs' 20, made a panic shovel pass that was picked off by Bama senior defensive tackle Rudy Griffin at the 17-yard line and returned for a defensive lineman's dream touchdown. With just over two minutes gone and Alabama's offense yet to step on the field in the second half, the Bama lead had jumped to 17-0.

At intermission, Alabama had dominated statistically with 15 first downs to three for the Bulldogs; 44 offensive plays for 222 yards to 20 plays for 60 yards for State; and a time of possession advantage of 21:08 to 8:52. But the offense had not been able to sustain momentum to the end zone and had only a 38-yard field goal by Jamie Christensen to show for its work.

Alabama is now 9-0 on the year and 6-0 in Southeastern Conference play. The Crimson Tide will host pre-season SEC Western Division favorite LSU at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama was ranked fourth in the nation going into Saturday's games. LSU, ranked sixth in the nation was 6-1 overall and 4-1 in SEC play going into its non-conference game against Appalachian State Saturday night.

Most would judge that the game was poorly played by both teams, and even more poorly officiated…not in favor of one team over the other, just poor. The officiating may have hurt Alabama most tangibly when a fumble by Mississippi State was picked up by DeMeco Ryans and run in for a touchdown. The amazing call by the officiating crew (which threw a flag to begin with) was that the State quarterback "was down at the spot."

Both State and Bama squandered first half scoring opportunities. Early in the second quarter State faced fourth and one at the Alabama 10. Instead of kicking a field goal for a 3-0 lead, the Bulldogs elected to go for it. Henig made a good pass, but it was dropped.

The Tide took over and with help from a personal foul penalty went to the Mississippi State 12 before the march foundered. Christensen kicked the first points of the game.

With time running out in the first half, Alabama again moved to the Mississippi State 12. This time onh fourth and inches the Tide tried a quarterback sneak. Brodie Croyle fumbled and although the ball was recovered and advanced by Kenneth Darby, that is not allowed on a fourth down play and so the ball went over with only moments to play in the first half.

Despite the overall lackluster performance, some Bama individuals had good moments. Jimmy Johns, Bama's freshman running back from Brookhaven, Mississippi, was lustily booed the first time he touched the ball. But in addition to his game-changing caused fumble on the second half kickoff, Johns rushed 12 times for 65 yards yards.

Defensive back Simeon Castille had an excellent interception for the Tide, and also partially blocked a Mississippi State punt.

In a match-up of two of the SEC's top rushers, Bama's Kenneth Darby had the better of it against Jerious Norwood of State. Darby, the SEC's leading rusher going into the game, had 21 carries for 122 yards. Norwood had 18 carries for 39 yards.

It was not Brodie Croyle's finest hour. The senior quarterback saw his school record streak of not throwing an interception end at 190 when Bama's opening drive ended with Croyle being picked off at the Mississippi State 21. He later suffered another interception in the end zone to kill a fourth quarter drive. He also lost two fumbles and had another one he recovered and was dropped for several losses. And he was responsible for no touchdowns.

It could be that the worst thing that happened to Bama Saturday was having three-year starting center J.B. Closner injured. Closner was taken from the contest in the first quarter and replaced by little-used Taylor Britt. Closner suffered a broken leg and has been lost for the season.


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