Arenas Keys Tide Win Over State

On a night when 1978 Alabama was honored for its national championship performance, there was a reminder of an inside joke. The offensive coaches complained they had to grade about twice as much film as the defensive coaches. Bama's 1978 defense was on the field very little and the Crimson Tide offense gobbled up clock with long drives. The offensive film reel was twice the size of the defensive.



Coaches from Saturday night's 32-7 Alabama win over Mississippi State game will be examining a lot of footage from the third reel, the special teams coverage. The kicking game was responsible for a lot of Alabama scoring, including all 12 Bama first half points and a dramatic punt return for touchdown to start scoring in the second half.

Javier Arenas broke an Alabama record for punt returns for touchdowns as his 80-yard scamper in the third quarter was his fifth of his career. The previous record was four, held by Arenas and David Palmer (1991-93). Arenas is a junior. He also broke his own record for most punt return yards in a game. Earlier this year Arenas has 147 yards in punt returns against Tulane (breaking Harry Gilmer's record of 140 yards against Georgia in 1947). Early in the third quarter Arenas reached the 153-yard mark in punt returns against Mississippi State. He also broke Gilmer's career record of 1,119 yards in punt returns. Arenas is at 1,146.

Arenas has several more opportunities to extend his punt return marks. Alabama concludes regular season play in two weeks, hosting Auburn on November 29. Bama then will meet Florida in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game in the Atlanta Georgia-Dome on December 6. That will be followed by a bowl game.

Alabama, ranked number one in the nation, improved its record to 11-0. The Tide is 7-0 in SEC games. Mississippi State fell to 3-7 overall and 1-5 in conference games.

Kicking game heroics led to an unlikely 2-0 Alabama lead with just over 10 minutes to play in the first quarter.

When Bama's first possession of the game stalled, P.J. Fitzgerald's 46-yard punt was downed at the Mississippi State one-yard line by Rashad Johnson. Three plays later the Bulldogs were forced to punt. Kareem Jackson, who had been lined up on the State gunner, broke inside at the snap and blocked Blake McAdams' punt out of the end zone for a safety.

Later in the first quarter, State mishandled a center-quarterback exchange and the fumble was recovered for the Tide by Brandon Fanney at the Alabama 47. Although the drive was crippled by a "hands to the face" penalty, Leigh Tiffin made it 5-0 with a 35-yard field goal with 1:42 left in the first quarter.

Mississippi State took the lead at 10:19 of the second quarter on a 32-yard pass from Tyson Lee to Jamayel Smith. Ali Sharrief, an extra defensive back in on the play, was guarding Smith and committed pass interference, but Smith still made the catch. After a couple of five-yard movement penalties, Adam Carlson converted a 30-yard extra point kick to make it State 7, Bama 5. The Bulldogs had gone 78 yards in just seven plays to the touchdown.

The kicking game continued to be big. When Tide drive stalled, Fitzgerald's punt was again downed deep by Rashad Johnson, down at the two-yard line. That resulted in State having to punt back from deep in the Bulldogs' end zone. Javier Arenas took the ball on one bounce near midfield, cut back and followed a block by Marquis Johnson to the State two.

Two plays later John Parker Wilson went in from a yard out on a quarrterback sneak. With 4:47 to play, Bama had the first touchdown scored by an Alabama offense against Mississippi State since 2004. Tiffin's extra point made it Alabama 12, Mississippi State 7.

The kicking game continued to pay big dividends in the second half. Mississippi State's first punt of the second half drove Arenas back to the 20, but the junior returns star took it 80 yards for a touchdown with 12:14 remaining in the third quarter. Tiffin kicked Bama to a 19-7 lead.

Although Alabama's offense stalled when it got deep into State territory in the final five minutes of the third quarter, Tiffin gave Bama a comfortable 15-point margin when he connected on a 34-yard field goal with 3:50 to play. Alabama led, 22-7.

Bama didn't get much out of its best offensive drive of the night, a 12-play, 71-yard march that took 6:21 but gained only three points. Starting from its 11, Mark Ingram gained 40 yards to midfield. Ingram and Glen Coffee had key third down pick-ups leading to a first down at the State 24. But the drive stalled at the 19 and Tiffin's 35-yard field goal made it 25-7 with 11:14 remaining in the game.

Three freshmen were big contributors to Bama's longest drive for a touchdown. Alabama started a mid-quarter drive from its 28 with a broken play, but it was a good broken play. A scrambling John Parker Wilson found freshman tight end Brad Smelley for a 37-yard gain to the State 35. Freshman wide receiver Julio Jones was wide open on the next pass for 34 yards to the one. Freshman Mark Ingram went into the end zone on the next play to complete the 58-second drive. Tiffin's kick made irt 32-7 with under eight minutes to play.

Alabama closed out the game with back-up performers playing.

Statistics indicated Alabama defensive dominance in the game. Alabama had 17 first downs to only nine for Mississippi State. The Tide had 48 rushes for 198 yards, the Bulldogs 22 runs for 35 yards. Alabama completed 12 of 19 passes for 166 yards, the Bulldogs 11 of 28 passes for 132 yards. Alabama had tgotal offense of 67 plays for 364 yards, State 50 plays for 167 yards. There was a huge advantgage for the Tide in punt return yards, Bama seven for 161 yards (including Kareem Jackson's block as an eight-yard return), the Bulldogs two returns for a net of one yard. State lost one of its two fumbles. Bama also fumbled twice, but did not have a turnover in the game. It was a bit unusual that Alabama was penalized more than its opponent. The Tide was flagged five times for 52 yards, State five times for 25 yards. Alabama converted six of 14 third down opportunites, the Bulldogs only two of 12. Bama scored on all five of its Red Zone opportunities. The Bulldogs did not get inside the Alabama 20 except on the Bulldogs' 31-yard touchdown pass from outside the Red Zone. Alabama had a commanding edge in time of possession, 35:33 to 24:27.

Alabama's individual leaders were Mark Ingram with 13 runs for 78 yards and one touchdown, Glen Coffee 17 runs for 71 yards. (State's outstanding tailback, Anthony Dixon, was held to 26 yards on 11 carries.) John Parker Wilson completed 10 of 17 passes for 148 yards. Julio Jones had three pass receptions for 53 yards and Brad Smelley two catches for 46 yards. P.J. Fitzgerald averaged 43 yards per punt on five punts with a long of 46 and three downed inside the State 20-yard line.

Defensively, Rolando McClain was in on 11 tackles (six primary), inlcuding two sacks for 12 yards in losses. Brandon Fanney was in on five tackles, recovered a fumble and had a quarterback hurry.

BamaMag Top Stories