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November 15, 2009

Upon Further Review: Alabama at Mississippi State

The review of Saturday's 31-3 victory in Strarkville pretty much showed what everyone saw during the game, that it was an efficient and dominating win.

The University of Alabama football team had no turnovers, gave up no sacks and after taking the momentum in the second quarter never relented.

Mississippi State had played Florida and LSU tough at home and it's most lopsided loss had been to Georgia Tech, 42-31.

"I give credit to Alabama," Coach Dan Mullen said. "They made some big plays. That was the difference in the game. They had completed passes of 42, 48 and 45 yards, a 70-yard touchdown by Mark Ingram. We hold him to 79 yards if we take away that touchdown run."

However, even without Ingram's late touchdown the Crimson Tide still had a 182-114 edge in rushing yards, 192-99 in passing yards and 21-point advantage.

"I think we had a lot of balance on offense," Coach Nick Saban said. "During the bye week a while back we talked about opening it up. Tonight we utilized a lot of players. We have to spread teams out and make them defend."

In short, it was one of No. 2 Alabama's most complete wins of the season.

Player(s) of the game: Senior cornerback Marquis Johnson and sophomore safety Mark Barron combined to make three interceptions and broke up five passes.

Play of the game: The big plays were all, well, big, but Johnson made a spectacular play to knock the second ball away from receiver O'Neal Wilder, who had position on him in the end zone.

Hit of the game: Junior linebacker Rolando McClain made 10 tackles, but his last may be the one the Bulldogs remember the most. When Chris Relf started to roll and hesitated, McClain promptly drilled him despite the quarterback leaning into him for a 9-yard loss.

Statistic of the game: Alabama didn't give up a third-down conversion until the fourth quarter (but MSU did convert one of two fourth-down attempts). Also, the Tide didn't allow a first down in the final 23:30 of the first half after allowing four early on, two due to penalties.

Did you notice? With two sacks Alabama exceeded last year's total of 26, and leads the Southeastern Conference with 28.

Here are 10 other things of note from Saturday's game:

1. Attacking No. 24: In addition to the two balls he knocked away in the end zone and his late interception, Johnson had an immensely busy day. Mississippi State threw his direction on the first play of the game and 10 more times. The result was one completion for 12 yards, one pass-interference penalty (which he did get beat but the penalty was a much better option than a deep completion) and three interceptions. Amazingly he was credited with only one tackle.

2. Who else was thrown at: Almost no one. The closest senior Javier Arenas came to having a ball thrown his way was a 7-yard pass to Anthony Dixon out of the backfield, and Mississippi State completely avoided junior cornerback Kareem Jackson. Despite that, Jackson still made six tackles and Arenas two. Senior safety Justin Woodall had three passes thrown his direction when he was in coverage, with two completions for 19 yards, and dislocated a finger on the play he couldn't bring down Dixon after MSU threw into the hole created by blitzing Arenas.

3. The touchdown passes: Both touchdown passes came on the same play-action play, only on different sides, with sophomore Julio Jones running a post route and junior Darius Hanks underneath. When both defenders stayed on Jones, junior quarterback Greg McElroy hit Hanks at the 25, who ran it in for a career-long 45-yard score. In the fourth quarter the defenders both bit on Hanks, leaving Jones wide open for his 48-yard touchdown.

4. McElroy's day: The quarterback completed 13 of 18 passes for 192 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions. The 72.2 completion percentage was his best since North Texas (86.7), and his 198.49 passer rating was his best since Arkansas (213.93). His footing was noticeably better than about a month ago and passes crisper, which helped give him an air of confidence. The one time he appeared to throw off his back foot the ball was knocked away by a defender. McElroy completed is first four third-down attempts, two for first downs, and finished 4-for-6. He was 0-for-1 on fourth down.

5. Where the Tide ran: Alabama accumulated 252 rushing yards, most by running to the left. In addition to Ingram's 70-yard touchdown burst to complete the scoring, freshman Trent Richardson had an 18-yard carry and Ingram a 12-yard gain through the left side of the line. Except for Ingram's 21-yard run around the end the Tide's biggest run to the right was for just four yards. Incidentally, Ingram has rushed for exactly 1,000 yards (150 attempts) in seven SEC games (142.9 average, seven touchdowns).

6. Special teams: Alabama's biggest problem Saturday was kick coverage, which the Tide had seemingly improved only to give up returns of 78 and 50 yards. Chad Bumphis would have scored a touchdown had he not stepped out of bounds before cutting in to make Johnson miss at the Alabama 38, and kicker Leigh Tiffin whiffed a tackle on the other. Overall, it was the same personnel as last week with Johnson, Ali Sharrief, Tyrone King Jr., Rod Woodson, Chris Jordan, Jerrell Harris, Chris Rodgers, Roy Upchurch, Trent Richardson and Robby Green (who made a touchdown-saving tackle). Otherwise, freshman Dre Kirkpatrick made a great play to deflect P.J. Fitzgerald's punt so it could be down at the 2, Arenas' 46-yard kick return set up Jones' touchdown, and with his 39-yard field goal Tiffin leads the nation in field goals made per game (2.40). He's hit 24-of-27, 88.9 percent.

7. The receiving corps: Alabama has been looking for other receivers to step up and take the focus off Jones, and Saturday may have been an important step. McElroy looked to sophomore Marquis Maze the most, with seven balls thrown his way for four receptions and 55 yards, including his turning a short gain into a 42-yard gain to set up a field goal (he also had a key block on Ingram's 21-yard carry). Jones had six passes thrown his way resulting in four catches for 66 yards, and Hanks caught all three of his attempts for 59 yards. Although senior Colin Peek (sprained knee) saw significant playing time no tight ends had a reception and the running backs had just two for 12 yards.

8. Penalties: The Tide only had three penalties for 25 yards. Johnson was flagged for pass interference on the first snap, senior defensive end Lorenzo Washington jumped offside and Arenas was called for delay of game. When Arenas used his hand to try and signal teammates to stay away so he could field the ball officials took it to mean he was calling for a fair catch. Technically, that's the rule.

9. Red zone: Although Alabama scored 31 points it reached the red zone only once, capped by Ingram's 1-yard touchdown run. It executed three plays, all runs, to travel the final 13 yards. The 11-play possession lasting 6 minutes and 14 seconds was the Tide's longest of the game, as it had only one other possession last more than seven plays, 3:32 (and it didn't lead to a score).

10. The second-unit offense: Alabama pulled its offensive starters for the final possession. Star Jackson was the quarterback with Roy Upchurch at running back, Baron Huber the H-back, Michael Williams at tight end and wide receivers Mike McCoy and Earl Alexander. The line, from left to right, was Tyler Love, John Michael Boswell, David Ross, Chance Warmack and Alfred McCullough.


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