Bama bashes Bulldogs, 28-14

Watts was wonderful

Good teams don't always play well, but they are very good if they can win when not playing at their best. Alabama had one of those games Saturday as the Crimson Tide defeated Mississippi State, 28-14, in Bryant-Denny Stadium.

The win improved Alabama's record to 8-2, including a 5-1 record in Southeastern Conference games. Mississippi State, now 3-6, is winless in five SEC contests.

Alabama, ranked 11th in the nation, will play at LSU next Saturday. The kickoff time against the Tigers will not be announced until Sunday. It is expected to be at 6:45 p.m. CST with television coverage by ESPN, but could possibly be at 2:30 on CBS. LSU, which earned a last-second 33-30 win over Kentucky in Lexington Saturday, is ranked 14th in the nation.

LSU defeated Alabama, 35-21, last season. Since then the Crimson Tide has won 12 of 14 games, including having won four consecutive games.

Senior Bama quarterback Tyler Watts had what Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione said might have been Watts' best game ever. Watts completed 16 of 22 passes for 223 yards, including three touchdowns. Watts completed two touchdown passes to Triandos Luke, a 15-yarder to get the Tide on the scoreboard to start the game and a 36-yarder on a fourth down play that was the game's only score in the second half. Watts also completed a 32-yard touchdown pass to Ray Hudson. Shaud Williams had the other Tide touchdown, a four-yard run.

Luke had his second consecutive game in which he caught passes for more than 100 yards. Luke pulled in seven passes for 128 yards.

Franchione said, "In the first half we played about as ‘on' as we could play offensively. Defensively, it was kind of the opposite. In the second half the defense came out and shut them out, including making two stops in the red zone. Offensively we got one score on the board. We had over 400 yards of offense and didn't turn the ball over. The punting game was a little shaky, but late in the game Lane Bearden did what he had to do."

Franchione also had a word about penalties. The Tide was flagged 12 times for 121 yards, including a personal foul call against Franchione for protesting the officiating. Franchione apologized to his team for getting the penalty, but said he felt he had to do something.

Although Alabama never trailed in the game and the Bulldogs were never able to tie the score after Bama took its 7-0 lead, the Tide was never able to put Coach Jackie Sherrill's Mississippi State team away, either.

Alabama had an excellent opening drive, a 12-play, 80-yard march that took four and a half minutes. Bama had to pick up only two short third down plays as Bama would go on to make seven first downs on its first 14 plays and 12 first downs on the Tide's first 20 plays. The Watts-to-Luke pass came on first down from the State 15.

The Alabama penalty problem was in full bloom on State's first drive. Bama was flagged for 35 yards in penalties, including back-to-back 15-yard fouls that wiped out good defensive plays. The Bulldogs were able to get a 30-yard field goal from Brent Smith out of the drive.

Bama came back with a nice scoring drive, despite having a holding call on the kickoff return start the Tide in a hole at its own eight-yard line. The Tide went the 92 yards in only eight plays. Watts kept the drive alive with a nice 23-yard pass to tight end Clint Johnston, and finished off the march by hitting Hudson on a 32-yard play.

The Bulldogs answered with a 14-play, 79-yard drive that was notable for Mississippi State fumbling three times – and recovering all three bobbles. After a two-yard Kevin Fant pass to Ray Ray Bivines touchdown the Bulldogs scored a two-point conversion pass to Justin Jenkins to pull to within three points at 14-11.

Again, Alabama answered, and a personal foul against Mississippi State helped. On a play in which Watts completed a 15-yard pass to Luke, the Bulldogs were flagged for a late hit on Bama's quarterback, moving the ball to the Mississippi State 38. Watts ran it down to the 22 and then on a third down play Santonio Beard ran it 21 yards to the State one. After a negative play, Shaud Williams ran it around left end for the touchdown and a 21-11 lead.

State took advantage of a nice kickoff return and saved a long run by once again recovering one of its own fumbles, but could get only another field goal from Smith that would be the final score for the visitors.

Bama place-kicker Kyle Robinson, who made all four of his extra point attempts, was just short on a 54-yard field goal attempt at the end of the first half. An Alabama holding penalty moved the ball back more than the kick was short.

The only score of the second half came on a fourth down play. Alabama needed 11 yards for a first down at the Mississippi State 36. Instead of punting, Franchione trusted his defense…and was rewarded by his offense. Franchione would say later that a punt probably would have given State the ball at the 20, and he considered the risk worth the 16 yards. That gamble paid off as Watts hit Luke behind the defense for the touchdown and 28-14 lead.

Although that was the final score, it wasn't because Mississippi State didn't have several opportunities. Twice in the fourth quarter the Bulldogs got the ball deep in Alabama territory only to come up empty. One of those opportunities came when Lane Bearden's punt was blocked (setting up the ‘Dogs at the Alabama 26) and a second came when a high snap forced Bearden to pass, putting State at Bama's 16.

Tide safety Charles Jones, who knocked down a pass that ended State's final scoring opportunity in Tide territory, ended the Bulldogs' last gasp with an interception in the final minutes.

Alabama had the better of it statistically. Bama had 21 first downs to State's 17. Alabama ran 40 times for 165 yards, the Bulldogs had 32 runs for 107 yards. The Tide completed 18 of 25 passes for 244 yards with no interceptions and State completed 21 of 38 for 139 yards with two intercepted. (Hirchel Bolden had the other Alabama interception.) Bama had 65 plays for 409 yards, 6.3 yards per play, Mississippi State 70 plays for 246 yards, 3.5 per play.

Beard was Bama's leading rusher with 14 carries for 68 yards. Although the Tide suffered a blocked punt, Bearden had a good day otherwise, four kicks for a 46.5 average, including a long kick of 52 yards.

In addition to his interception, Charles Jones had two pass deflections, caused a fumble and was in on nine tackles. Linebacker Cornelius Wortham was also in on nine tackles for Bama.

Franchione said, "We have two big conference games left. I understand LSU pulled one out today. I hoped they used up their lucky rabbit's foot today. We still have a chance to be best in the (SEC) West, and that's one of our goals."

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