All week Mississippi State had a “We Believe” movement going on from Starkville to Tuscaloosa. Fans went around campus putting “8-0” on street corners, statues, classroom walls, baby’s cribs, Bear Bryant's statue.
But from the second No. 11 Mississippi State kicked off to No. 1 Alabama Saturday night in Bryant-Denny Stadium, those beliefs were stomped on like a little kid playing with bubble wrap. The Crimson Tide (8-0, 5-0 SEC) beat the Bulldogs (7-1, 3-1) 38-7. Make that 76 losses to 18 victories for MSU in this matchup’s history.
After true freshman Cyrus Jones returned The Opening kickoff 41 yards, Alabama marched 59-yards down field and T.J. Yeldon capped things off with an 11-yard touchdown run. Dee Milliner would block a field goal on MSU’s ensuing possession and then the Tide went on to score on its next two series: A.J. McCarron would find Kenny Bell for 57 yards for one score, and Michael Williams for nine yards for another.
It was just another night at the office for the nation’s best team.
“I think at this point in the season it’s kind of like the playoffs in a way,” said Alabama head coach Nick Saban. “You’ve got a tough game the next week. You’ve got a good opponent the next week. You’ve got somebody in your division that’s a really good team. We are going to have to continue to improve and learn from our experiences today in terms of the good things that we did and also correct some of the things we didn’t’ do very well.
“Every game has a history, a life of its own. It’s up to us to try and do the best we can to put our players in the best possible position to be successful.”
Up 21-0 in the early goings of the second quarter, the Tide hit a lull. Mississippi State held them to three consecutive three-and-outs before Jeremy Shelley knocked down a 34-yard field goal to make the score 24-0.
The Bulldogs tried to get things going in the third quarter. Starting from their own 2-yard line, quarterback Tyler Russell drove his team 97 yards to the Alabama-1. But on third-and-goal, safety Robert Lester intercepted Russell in the end zone, his second goal line pick in as many games.
“It’s always big to make a big play,” Lester said. “It was all a part of me just doing my job.”
Added Saban: “I thought turnovers would be important in this game. We were plus-3 in turnovers. That was a huge difference in the game.”
The fourth quarter would see Alabama methodically suck any lingering hope out of the Bulldogs. MSU fumbled a kickoff return that was turned into an Alabama touchdown on the next drive.
Heading into this game, Alabama knew it would have to stop MSU’s run and the SEC’s leading rusher LaDarius Perkins, who had been averaging over 100 yards per game. The Tide’s top-ranked defense that’s only allowing opponents 58.7 rushing yards per game held Perkins to a net of 38 yards on 15 carries.
“Any team you play, if you can make them one dimensional and take away the run, you pretty much got them where you want them,” Lester said. “When you put them in the air, you have a better chance of making them turn the ball over.”
McCarron, who has now extended his streak of pass attempts without an interception to 262, left the game early. Saban revealed in the post-game that his quarterback has a back contusion, but could have returned and will play next week.
Backup quarterbacks Blake Sims and Phillip Ely both saw action in the fourth, with Ely throwing his first career touchdown pass—a 27-yarder to Eddie Lacy. True freshman running back Kenyan Drake scored his fifth touchdown of the season to extend the Tide’s lead 38-0.
But Mississippi State would not be shut out. Backup quarterback Dak Prescott connected with receiver Robert Johnson for a 2-yard score with less than five minutes to play.
With the task of conquering the only other undefeated team in the SEC West out of the way, Alabama can now focus on what’s been the highlighted, circled and starred game on the schedule since their last meeting in the national championship—LSU.
“We know this is our game,” said wide receiver Chrstion Jones. “This is the big game for us. It’s the game everybody been waiting on.”
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