Alabama Has Kinks To Be Ironed Out

Cody Mandell

Alabama clinched at least a tie for the Southeastern Conference Western Division championship in Starkville Saturday night. The Crimson Tide has about two weeks to get its act if it is going to make any other goals. Bama played perhaps its poorest game of the season, but escaped with a 20-7 win over Mississippi State.



It would be generous praise to say that Alabama played uninspired football. The Crimson Tide had two lost fumbles – one each by T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake -- and A.J. McCarron, who had thrown only three interceptions this season, tossed two picks.

Looking for a Most Valuable Player for the Tide? It might be punter Cody Mandell, who hadn't had three punts in a game since he had five against Ole Miss Sept. 28. He had only 29 punts in Bama's first nine games. Against the Bulldogs he punted five times for a 55-yard average, including a season best 63-yarder that was downed inside the five and a 61-yarder downed inside the five and were serious flip-the-field moments.

An optimist would say it was a good wake-up call game for the Tide and that kinks can be ironed out.

Alabama, ranked first in the nation, continued undefeated at 10-0 and is 7-0 in SEC play with only one conference game to play. That league game is in two weeks at Auburn against the surprise team in the nation. Auburn is 10-1 and 6-1 in the league. The winner will represent the SEC West in the conference championship game on Dec. 6. Mississippi State fell to 4-6 overall and 1-5 in the conference.

Alabama has its final game in Bryant-Denny Stadium and its final non-conference game next Saturday when the Crimson Tide hosts U-T-Chattanooga at 1 p.m. CST in Bryant-Denny Stadium.

McCarron threw touchdown passes of 18 yards to tight end Brian Vogler and 11 yards to Kevin Norwood and Cade Foster kicked field goals of 33 and 35 yards to account for the Bama points, 10 in each half. The lone Mississippi State score was offensive tackle Charels Siddoway recovering a fumble by Bulldogs quarterback Tyler Russell in the end zone.

Statistically it wasn't as bad as it looked live. T.J. Yeldon, for instance, had 24 carries for 160 yards. McCarron completed 18 of 32 passes for 187 yards with two touchdowns, and threw successfully to eight different receivers. Christion Jones had 5 catches for 37 uyards and Amari Cooper four for 45 yards.

C.J. Mosley was in on 8 tackles and caused a fumble, but he also had a facemask penalty. Trey DePriest was in only 6 tackles and Landon Collins, Jarrick Williams, and A'Shawn Robinson had five each. Robinson also had a sack. HaHa Clinton-Dix had an interception.

State's leading rusher, LaDarius Perkins, had10 carries for only 25 yards. Bulldogs quarterback Tyler Russell had some success, though, completing 15 of 24 passes for 144 yards. Malcolm Johnson had six catches for 84 yards.

Alabama had 20 first downs to only 10 for the Bulldogs. Bama had 33 rushes for 196 yards, State 29 runs for only 53. The Tide was 18-32 passing (all by McCarron) for 187 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions. Two State QBs were 15-29 for 144 yards with one interception and no touchdowns. Bama had total offense of 65 plays for 383 yards, State 58 plays for 197. The Bulldogs fumbled four times, but didn't lose one. Bama lost both of its two fumbles. State was penalized only one time for five yards, while the Tide was flagged five times for 41 yards.

In a generally uninspiring first half, the Crimson Tide got a little breathing room with a fine drive. After AJ McCarron threw a rare interception with just under four minutes remaining in the second quarter, the Tide defense held. Kevin Norwood put pressure on the Mississippi State punter, and the kick dribbled to the Tide 22 with 2:49 remaining.

Yeldon got the final march off to a good start as he went off left tackle and then down the sideline for 50 yards to the 28. Two plays later Yeldon ran for 15 to the 17. A couple of plays faltered and on third-and-11 McCarron scrambled, then found tight end Brian Vogler at the four. Vogler beat a defender to get it into the end zone for his first Bama career touchdown.

That gave Bama a 10-0 halftime lead.

Alabama's first possession of the game had been very efficient, driving to the Bulldogs 17. But when a third down pass missed, Cade Foster was called on for a 33-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.

State had what seemed to be a sure opportunity to take the lead or, at least, tie the game. The Bulldogs drove to a second-and-one at the Alabama 2. But A'Shawn Robinson made a tackle for no gain and the Bulldogs – after an ineligible receiver penalty – missed on a pass.

More surprising than the missed pass, though, was State placekicker Evan Sobiesk being wide right on a 23-yard field goal attempt that would have tied the game with five and a half minutes to play in the second quarter.

Bama had bad fumble luck to start the second half. T.J. Yeldon had a nifty run for 10 yards to near midfield, but fumbled and it was recovered by State's Beniquez Brown at the Tide 46. It took State just four plays to get to first-and-goal at the 9. State quarterback Tyler Russell kept on a run and fumbled as he neared the goalline. In the scramble, the ball made it into the end zone where it was recovered by Mississippi State offensive tackle for a touchdown, cutting the Tide lead to 10-7.

Bama answered with a nine-play, 77-yard drive with McCarron completing passes of 12 yards to Norwood, 26 yards to Christion Jones, 13 yards to DeAndrew White, and 7 yards to Amari Cooper before finishing it with a fade route touchdown completion to Norwood from the 11.

Alabama seemed to be on track for another dominant drive, going from the Tide 8 after an interception by HaHa Clinton-Dix. Clinton-Dix had run the return out to about the 25, but a block-in-the-back penalty put it back against the Bama goalline. McCarron took care of that with back-to-back passes to O.J. Howard (21 yards) and DeAndrew White (15) and then Yeldon had a 25-yard run to ghe State 31. But the drive eventually stalled and Foster kicked his second field goal, a 35-yard effort, to make it 20-7.

Mississippi State was playing without quarterback Dak Prescott and Tyler Russell was injured when he was sacked in the fourth quarter by A'Shawn Robinson. The Bulldogs finished the game with true freshman Damian Williams playing at quarterback.

Alabama had the ball at the Mississippi State 5-yard line at the end of the game and McCarron took a knee on the final two plays.

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