By Tony Tsoukalas / Sports Writer
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. —
On a day where Georgia upset No. 2 Florida, Alabama proved why it is the Southeastern Conference’s premier football team, taking down No. 11 Mississippi State 38-7 Saturday night.
The Bulldogs started the game with high expectations, coming into the matchup with their best start since 1999 when they began the season 8-0. However, it did not take long to realize Alabama was on a completely different level than the visiting Bulldogs.
“I think our team has done a great job of handling success,” head coach Dan Mullen said. “Now we are going to see how they do handling failure.”
Alabama wasted no time picking apart the Mississippi State defense. Crimson Tide quarterback AJ McCarron orchestrated a nine-play, 59-yard scoring drive, completing 3-3 passes and marching the Crimson Tide down the field.
On first-and-10 from the Mississippi State 21-yard line, freshman running back T.J. Yeldon took the ball for 10 yards. On the following play, he busted through for 11 and marched into the end zone to open up the scoring.
Former Meridian High School quarterback, Tyler Russell helped bring the Bulldogs back. Russell drove MSU down to the Alabama 14 before he was forced to get rid of a third-and-eight pass, which sailed over the head of wide receiver Chad Bumphis in the end zone.
The next play created a momentum-crushing blow for the Bulldogs, as Alabama’s Dee Milliner burst off the line to block a 31-yard field-goal attempt to leave MSU with nothing to show for the drive.
“That definitely gave them momentum,” MSU offensive lineman Tobias Smith said. “When you give a team like that momentum, they are going to make you pay.”
McCarron once again made the Bulldogs pay on Alabama’s ensuing drive. On first-and-10 from the Alabama 43, McCarron connected on a perfectly-placed pass to wide receiver Kenny Bell, who beat MSU standout cornerback Jonathan Banks for the 57-yard TD. McCarron started the game 6-of-6 passing for 89 yards.
“AJ McCarron, I got so much respect for that kid,” Banks said. “The way he handles that offense, he is just amazing.”
The Bulldogs were not able to get anything going on offense, mainly due to the performance of the relentless Alabama defensive line. Russell spent most of the day on the ground, as Tide defenders delivered blow after blow to the quarterback.
Alabama drove into MSU territory early in the second quarter, and once again it was McCarron who made things look easy for the Tide. On third-and-eight from the 9-yard line, McCarron found a wide-open Michael Williams for his second touchdown of the game. The Tide quarterback finished the night with 208 yards on 16-of-23 passing to go along with his two touchdowns.
Russell threw his only interception on the night, after driving the Bulldogs 97 yards to the Alabama 1 on a 16-play drive early in the third quarter. On third-and-goal, Russell rolled to his right, and under pressure, tossed a ball into the end zone, which Robert Lester plucked to end the drive.
The Meridian product performed better than his numbers (15-of-30, and an interception) indicated. Russell completed numerous passes under pressure and demonstrated an ability to slip the ball into a tight window at times. However, no matter the effort, Russell eventually fell victim to the nation’s No. 1 rated defense.
Mississippi State (7-1) hosts Texas A&M next week, while Alabama (8-0) travels to Baton Rouge to take on the No. 6 LSU Tigers.