No. 1 Alabama sloppy in win, seeks improvement

No. 1 Alabama was able to sleepwalk through its 20-7 victory
over Mississippi State on Saturday without dire consequences.

Opponents in the near future probably won’t be as forgiving.

The Crimson Tide (10-0, 7-0 Southeastern Conference) had a tepid
offensive showing against the Bulldogs, with 383 total yards and an
uncharacteristic four turnovers. Alabama still escaped with a
relatively easy victory, but coach Nick Saban said the game was a
reminder that his team isn’t invincible.

”We won the game, but we really didn’t beat the other team,”
Saban said. ”That’s really not how we usually try and do it. But
there’s a lot our players can learn from this in terms of how
prepared they were and what their mental energy and intensity was
going into the game.”

Alabama’s offense looked lethargic from the start, leaning on
the defense while lurching to a 10-0 halftime lead. A.J. McCarron
threw his first two interceptions since September and T.J. Yeldon
had a costly fumble in the third quarter that led to Mississippi
State’s only touchdown of the night.

It wasn’t all bad for the Tide. McCarron threw for 187 yards and
two touchdowns while Yeldon rushed for career-high 160 yards. And
the defense was suffocating, allowing just 197 total yards and
coming up with two huge defensive stops after turnovers in the
second half.

”It’s a turning point in the game to get those stops,” Saban
said. ”The defense showed a lot of character.”

But considering Alabama had won seven straight games by at least
three touchdowns before Saturday, the relative success for a
mediocre Mississippi State (4-6, 1-5) team was unexpected.

”It was a battle up front,” Alabama offensive lineman Anthony
Steen said. ”It was the most difficult game I have played so far
this season.”

In the end, it was a victory. And even though it was ugly, it
might have been the splash of cold water Alabama needed to make
sure its focus is complete heading into the most crucial games of
the season.

Now the two-week hype begins for one of the most anticipated
Iron Bowls in years. Alabama has one more game in the interim –
against FCS-level Chattanooga on Saturday – and it will give the
Tide a chance to clean up its performance in advance of the Nov. 30
showdown with Auburn (10-1, 6-1).

The winner will clinch the SEC Western Division and play for the
league championship on Dec. 7.

Alabama will almost certainly be the favorite, even though the
game is at Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium.

But the Tide’s immortality has taken a hit. Saban is on full
alert.

”It takes a lot of discipline,” Saban said. ”It takes a lot
of character. We have to have those things if we want to separate
from those other teams. That’s something we have to prove that we
can do. I think there’s a lot to be learned from this.”

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