Alabama brushed aside a top SEC West challenger and roared on to an even tougher one.
AJ McCarron passed for 208 yards and two touchdowns, and the top-ranked Crimson Tide reached the end zone on its first three possessions in a muscle-flexing 38-7 victory over Mississippi State on Saturday night.
That blazing start indicated ‘Bama wasn’t looking ahead to No. 6 LSU in a national game rematch — at least until the second quarter.
”We felt like we had something to prove, because they felt like they could come in our house and beat us,” Tide linebacker CJ Mosley said of the Bulldogs, 11th in the BCS standings. ”As a defense we did a great job of stopping the run and making them try to beat us with the pass.”
Point made. The Tide (8-0, 5-0 Southeastern Conference) quickly turned the meeting of unbeaten SEC West teams into a mismatch with a 21-0 lead barely a minute into the second quarter.
”We certainly had a lot of respect for Mississippi State,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. ”You don’t get to be 7-0 by accident. I think it was important for us to get off to a fast start in this game, preparing yourself to fight a 15-round fight, knowing that you’re going to have to take the fight to them in the early rounds.
”You can’t necessarily win the fight in the first round, but you can certainly lose it. I think we had the right amount of energy and the right physical energy to play in the game.”
The Bulldogs (7-1, 3-1) came in averaging 36.7 points but didn’t score until the final minutes. They had been leading the nation in turnover margin but lost two fumbles and an interception.
McCarron completed 16-of-23 passes before sitting out the fourth quarter. He headed to the locker room briefly early in the quarter with a bruised back but returned to the sideline. Saban said he could have returned and will be fine for the LSU game.
The Tide has now won the past five meetings and this one turned into more of the same, despite considerably more hype.
”They’re No. 1 for a reason — they don’t make mistakes,” Mississippi State cornerback Johnthan Banks said. ”I haven’t played a team like that since I’ve been in college. I have great respect for AJ McCarron. He doesn’t make mistakes.”
The Bulldogs had started 7-0 for only the second time in program history. Instead of proving they were legitimate SEC contenders, this game showed they have a ways to go.
McCarron hit Kenny Bell in stride for a 57-yard touchdown to cap a drive that started at Alabama’s 4. He then found tight end Michael Williams for a 9-yard score early in the second quarter.
His 18 touchdowns tie him with John Parker Wilson for second-most in school history, two behind Greg McElroy’s single-season record.
T.J. Yeldon rushed for 84 yards on 10 carries, including an 11-yard touchdown. The subs tacked on two touchdowns after turnovers in the fourth quarter.
It wasn’t the finish that mattered the most, but the start.
”This is a big game for us and we knew that they were going to come out really believing they could win the game,” Tide center Barrett Jones said. ”And that’s when we knew we had to come out and play hard in the beginning. We really started fast. That’s something we talked about all week.”
Alabama held the SEC’s leading rusher, LaDarius Perkins, to 38 yards on 15 carries after he came in with three straight 100-yard efforts. The Tide outgained Mississippi State 414-256.
Tyler Russell completed 15-of-30 passes for 169 yards but threw just his second interception of the season and took a number of hits from the nation’s top defense.
”(The Bulldog players) expected to win the game,” coach Dan Mullen said. ”Not a lot of other guys did but our guys expected to win. All the little things you need to do, we didn’t do.
”If we scored in the red zone, it’s 24-17.”
Alabama’s 24-0 halftime lead held until Mississippi State had a muffed punt and another fumble in the fourth. Then Alabama’s backup quarterbacks came in to convert those mistakes into touchdowns.
Phillip Ely hit Eddie Lacy for a 27-yarder and then Blake Sims led another scoring drive capped with a 3-yard touchdown run by freshman Kenyan Drake.
The Bulldogs finally scored on backup quarterback Dak Prescott’s 2-yard touchdown pass to Robert Johnson with 4:39 left in the game.
Mississippi State couldn’t cash in on two other scoring chances before the game really got out of hand. First, Dee Milliner blocked a 31-yard field goal attempt on the opening drive.
Then, Russell drove the Bulldogs 97 yards from their own 2-yard line before Robert Lester picked off a pass in the end zone late in the third.
”Things we’ve done right all year long, we couldn’t do that against the No. 1 team in the country,” Mississippi State linebacker Cameron Lawrence said. ”These boys are the real deal.
”I feel like we played our worst game and Alabama capitalized on our mistakes. ”
Mississippi State managed to slow down Alabama’s offense for a stretch after getting bullied in the first 17 minutes but couldn’t find many holes in the defense.
The Tide has two shutouts and has lost two more in the final minutes with the reserves on the field.