STARKVILLE, Miss. -- 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."