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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