By Tony Tsoukalas / Sports Writer
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. —
A blocked chip-shot field goal, blown coverage, an interception in the end zone, a muffed punt return, a fumbled kickoff return; Alabama did not have to deal Mississippi State a death blow at any point in Saturday’s 38-7 beatdown. Instead, the Bulldogs sustained a death by a thousand paper cuts.
"The little things made a huge difference, and the little things to me come down to attention to detail," Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. "In these games, you have to have complete focus and execute at a high level for 60 minutes. All the little things you need to do, we didn't do that."
It was clear, the Bulldogs are not yet to the point where they can compete with the elite teams in the nation, but it’s not due to any lack of talent. Instead, Mississippi State allowed the best team in the nation to simply sit back and watch them implode.
Mississippi State’s first drive was a excellent example of where the Bulldogs are at this season. Facing a third-and-12 from the Alabama 47-yard line, Tyler Russell remained cool in the pocket, placing a perfect 31-yard pass through a tight window to Chris Smith at the Alabama 16. That was the good, a 2-yard run followed by failed protection in two straight plays leading to an incomplete pass on third-and-8 was the bad.
The ugly came later when Devon Bell saw his 31-yard field-goal attempt fall to the ground after Alabama’s Dee Milliner races off the line unblocked to get a hand on it.
"We just didn't get the ball up high enough," Mullen said.
The Bulldogs also didn’t block well enough, and on the next series, they didn’t focus well enough.
Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron was able to capitalize on a lapse in defense when he connected with receiver Kenny Bell on a 57-yard touchdown pass, due to a miscommunication by the MSU secondary.
“Once again it’s the little things,” Mullen said. “You had a safety in the middle of the field that went the wrong way. Little breakdowns here and there, and when you play a really good team and you make a mistake, they are going to take advantage of it.”
The difference between Alabama and Mississippi State was simple; the Crimson Tide hardly made any mistakes on the night. Alabama had no turnovers to MSU’s three, and even though the Crimson tide account for more penalty yards, 63 to MSU’s 56, Alabama did not allow it to effect how it played its game.
“They are a very well-coached team that plays very hard,” Mullen said of Alabama. “It’s amazing how the ball bounces right for the team that plays hard. There is a reason why they are the No. 1 team in the country.”
Mississippi State did show flashes of brilliance, especially on defense during Saturday’s game. The Bulldogs were able to force Alabama into three straight three-and-outs in the second quarter. However, the Bulldogs were not able to capitalize on offense after any of those stops.
“Alabama came out fast,” Mullen said. “The things we’ve done in the past to respond, we responded to a point and then didn’t finish things off.”
The Bulldogs will need to have short memories, as the team has no time to lick its wounds with 6-2 Texas A&M coming into Starkville this week. Although the Aggies appear strong, coming off a 63-21 win over Auburn, MSU players welcome another challenge and another shot to prove they can contend with the league’s best.
“It’s just football,” MSU cornerback Johnthan Banks said. “Ain’t nobody Superman, and we aren’t going to be scared of anybody.”