Put A Big Bow On This One

Alabama got an early start on the gift season Saturday in Starkville. The Crimson Tide offense handed Mississippi State more scoring opportunities than Bama can afford to give up. The Bulldogs 17-12 win over Bama likely will also adversely affect holiday bowl plans for the Tide.

Final Stats:

Alabama gave up two pass interceptions--one returned 100 yards for a touchdown--that accounted for 14 Mississippi State points. The loss dropped Alabama to 6-4 on the season and 4-3 in Southeastern Conference games. The Bulldogs improved to 6-4 and 3-3.

Alabama will play its final non-conference game of the year next Saturday when Bama hosts Louisiana Monroe at 1:30 p.m. CST at Bryant-Denny Stadium. There will be no telecast of the game.

Mississippi State became the 10th SEC team to become bowl eligible this year. The SEC has eight bowl slots available, and Bama dropped below the Bulldogs Saturday.

If ever a game changed on one play, it was this one. Alabama had a 9-3 lead with less than a minute to play in the first half and had the ball inside the Bulldogs' five-yard line. Leigh Tiffin had already kicked three field goals and at worst the Tide expected a chip shot for a 12-3 lead at intermission. It was not out of the question to expect the offense to punch in a touchdown, even though Alabama's offense has not scored a TD against State since 2004.

Instead, John Parker Wilson's pass under duress was intercepted by State's Anthony Johnson and returned 100 yards for a touchdown. The Bulldogs had taken a 10-9 lead and momentum to the dressing room.

That was the most glaring failure of the offense, but not the only one. Talk about squandering opportunity. Alabama got a great start when Rashad Johnson intercepted a pass on Mississippi State's first possession and ran it back to the Bulldogs' 334. Two runs got 12 yards. And then Alabama tried three passes, all incomplete. As a result Bama had to settle for a 39-yard Lee Tiffin field goal and a 3-0 lead three minutes into the game.

No one would have guessed it, but all Bama points Saturday would come off the foot of Tiffin.

Wilson's fourth consecutive incomplete pass to start the game resulted in a big moment for Tiffin. A personal foul penalty got Bama into Mississippi State territory, but when the drive stalled at the 34 Tiffin was called on to try a 51-yard field goal, which he nailed with 8:25 to play in the first quarter. It gave Alabama a 6-0 lead.

Alabama's first possession of the second quarter started at its 36 after a 31-yard Mississippi State punt that went out of bounds. Wilson's first completion of the day wasn't too good, losing two yards to Terry Grant. But his second on the next play to Matt Caddell gained 20 and his third on the play following that to D.J. Hall gained 16. A holding call against the Bulldogs gave Bama a first down at the State 16. Grant gained a yard, then scrambled for three yards to the Bulldogs' 12. Wilson threw incomplete and then Tiffin came on for his third field goal try of the day, a 29-yard effort that pushed Bama's lead to 9-0 with 8:39 to play in the first half.

(An oddity on Tiffin's third field goal: the officials threw a flag after he had made a 30-yard kick. The flag was just to stop play. The ball had been spotted wrong. So Tiffin had to kick again, actually from a yard closer.)

Mississippi State got on the scoreboard with a 35-yard field goal by Adam Carlson with 4:12 to play. The Bulldogs drove 55 yards in 11 plays. The drive almost didn't get started as Tiffin's short kickoff took an unusual bounce and the Tide nearly had an unusual onsides kick recovery. Additionally, Bama looked like it might stop the drive with Johnson's second pass interception, but he wasn't able to hold on. With 4:12 before halftime, Alabama had a 9-6 lead.

There really are not enough adjectives to describe how Alabama lost the first half lead and all momentum in the final seconds before intermission. With first and goal at the three and less than a minute to play, Alabama tried two power runs (neither behind the Tide's best offensive lineman, Andre Smith). On third down a Mississippi State blitz forced a hurried pass by Wilson. Although no one would have expected anything but a pass, strangely Bama called a play action pass, so that Wilson had his back to the line of scrimmage. No one was near the pass except Bulldogs defensive back Anthony Johnson, who picked it off and ran it back a school record 100 yards for a touchdown. State had the 10-9 halftime lead.

Wilson, who has a history of costly turnovers, gave up the ball again to start the second half. A pass sailed high and was intercepted Derek Pegues and returned to the Alabama 25. Five plays later Anthony Dixon plowed over right tackle for the touchdown and a 17-9 Mississippi State lead with 11:35 remaining in the third quarter.

Alabama pulled to within five points of the Bulldogs with 6:47 to play when Tiffin connected on his fourth field goal of the day, another boomer. After a drive stalled at the State 33, Tiffin connected on a 50-yard field goal to make it Mississippi State 17, Alabama 12.

Alabama's offense was unable to hold Mississippi State on the Bulldogs' final possession until State punted the ball to the Bama end zone with only 38 seconds to play. The Tide might have gotten the ball back with two minutes to play, but State was successful on a delay run for 11 yards on third and 10 from the Alabama 45.

Wilson completed on pass and had one run, but from the State 46 on the final play of the game, it ws somehow fitting that Wilson was sacked to end the game.

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