In its sloppiest game of the season, the top-ranked Crimson Tide sputtered past Mississippi State 20-7 on a misty night in Starkville.
“We won the game,” Tide coach Nick Saban said, “but we didn’t really beat the other team if that makes any sense and that’s really not how we usually try to do it.”
But it makes perfect sense.
The Tide (10-0, 7-0 SEC) committed four turnovers, while only forcing one. The Bulldogs fumbled four times, but the Tide weren’t able to secure any of them. One of the fumbles turned into Mississippi State’s lone score as the ball was kicked into the end zone and ultimately recovered by one Tide player and one Bulldog player, but the rule gives joint possession to the offense.
Alabama’s offense outgained Mississippi State with 383 yards to 197, but the Bulldogs had more success moving the ball than the stat sheet will show.
“We have to prepare our players better,” Saban said. “That’s on us. That’s on me. However we played today is really kind of my responsibility.”
Was there a hangover coming off the victory over LSU?
“That’s not an excuse even if there was,” wide receiver Christion Jones said. “That’s not an excuse. I don’t think there was. We practiced how we usually practice during the week. Nothing changed. It was a tough game last week, but this was a tough game too. Even though you have a tough game … we still have to play no matter what happens. I don’t think that’s an excuse for us.”
Safety HaHa Clinton-Dix said he noticed the team’s lackluster effort early.
“I believe it started in the walk through,” Clinton-Dix said. “We came out sluggish in the walk through and it kind of carried over into the game.”
Added linebacker C.J. Mosley, “We kind of messed up a few calls and a few adjustments in walk through. That’s when you can tell if guys are ready to play or not. We have to make sure we come out this week fired up because we have some big games coming up and we have to be ready for it.”
In 2011, following an emotional game against LSU, the Tide had an emotionless performance against the Bulldogs. Senior wide receiver Kevin Norwood couldn’t make sense of why the Tide struggles so much in this stadium.
“We just know that every time we come here, they play their best,” Norwood said. “I guess because they have their home crowd with them, backing them up or whatever, and with the stupid cowbells or whatever. At the same time, we were supposed to come out and take care of our business and we didn’t do that.”
Running back T.J. Yeldon found some wiggle room and was able to break a few long runs, including a 50-yard scamper that set up one of the Tide’s touchdowns. He finished with 160 yards and went over 2,000 yards for his career. But both he and fellow sophomore Kenyan Drake had fumbles.
McCarron was hit and miss. He and his receivers caught fire on the Tide’s second drive of the third quarter to answer Mississippi State’s touchdown drive. The drive was capped with a 11-yard touchdown from McCarron to Norwood. McCarron finished the night 18-of-32 with 187 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. On the first interception, the defender didn’t appear to have complete control of the ball until he landed out of bounds.
McCarron didn’t think it was an interception and wondered why it wasn’t reviewed. Saban questioned why he would challenge it if the booth had already had a look at it.
“Look, you know I think we have replay people in the booth so they’ve already looked at it,” Saban said. “So if they thought the guy was out of bounds, I thought they would have reviewed it and looked it at. So you think me challenging it would have changed their minds? They already looked at it.”
Still through all the struggles, there are many lessons to be taken away from this contest for both the players and coaches.
“I think it’s great for us,” McCarron said. “It makes us focus on working again in practice and not being complacent. We got another tough game on the road last game of the season at Auburn. It was good for us to struggle and still get a win. It always helps your team kind of bounce back.
“It kind of reminds you that you’re not as good as you think so you got to come to work.”