Bama totals 452 yards, 183 of them on 3 plays
By Michael Casagrande
Special to the Ledger-Enquirer
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — None looked like much to start.
Each ended with points.
Using three innocent-looking plays, Alabama steam-rolled past Mississippi State 30-10 on the same evening Auburn’s win officially knocked the Crimson Tide out of the SEC title hunt.
Combining the three big plays — an out-route, screen pass and end-around — Alabama netted 183 of its 452 total yards while keeping the No. 17 Bulldogs from doing any real damage with its complex running game.
“We’ve got some guys who can make some explosive plays so we want to get the ball in their hands,” coach Nick Saban said. “We made some that were really big in terms of us being able to score enough points to be successful. Getting ahead of these guys early was important as well so those big plays helped us do that.”
Early on, neither side could stop the opposing offense until it reached scoring territory. Mississippi State controlled the line of scrimmage with its read-option plays while Alabama found success through the air with McElroy finding his usual suspects for seven first downs.
When it came time to punch it in the end zone, the engines broke down and three field goals left Alabama (8-2, 5-2 SEC) leading 6-3 after one quarter.
The Bulldogs, losers for the first time in seven games, had some success running the ball in the first possession, gained 40 yards on the first seven plays before Robert Lester intercepted a pass on the eighth.
“They came out in a fast tempo and ran some things that we didn’t expect,” linebacker Dont’a Hightower said. “So in the second series we came out and played a lot better knowing what they like to do.”
In the end, Mississippi State (7-3, 3-3 SEC) ran 49 times for 149 yards or three yards per carry. Its only touchdown came midway through the fourth quarter when the Tide had backups on the field.
Alabama, on the other hand, piled up 452 yards — 277 through the air and 175 on the ground as Greg McElroy completed 12-of-18 passes for two touchdowns and a rare interception.
It had a few nothing possessions with little success after two early field goals before Marquis Maze breathed life into the stadium with the first of the Alabama’s big scoring plays.
A 45-yard touchdown reception that at first looked like an simple out-route, but the junior receiver broke a few tackles and found an opening to outrun one final defender to put Alabama up 13-6 midway through the second quarter.
“People underestimate me because I am small,” said Maze who finished with five catches and 89 yards.
Then it was Mark Ingram’s turn.
The Heisman Trophy winner broke out of a funk to sprint 82-yards down the Alabama sideline after catching a simple screen pass for touchdown on the first play after Maze’s 81-yard punt return was called back for a blocking penalty.
Ingram was coming off five straight plays with negative yardage before the big scoring play.
“It’s human nature to get frustrated,” Ingram said. “But we just kept plugging away. I tried not to get frustrated because that affects the way you approach the game so I try to stay away from that as much as possible. We just kept plugging away to find the runs that would give us an opportunity to have success out there.”
Julio Jones topped it off on an end-around on the first Alabama play the second half. The team’s leading receiver sprinted 54 yards to around the right side of the line and down the sideline to the familiar chants of “Juuulio.”
With that comfortable three-touchdown lead, the Tide turned it back over to the defense which made several big plays.
Alabama finished with five quarterback sacks.
Defensive end Damion Square had two and a big smile on his face afterwards.
“No doubt about it, as a d-lineman, that’s like a pick to a DB,” Square said. “You want to stop the run and put them in passing situations so you can get rewarded with sacks.”
Alabama now has a short week to prepare for a rare Thursday night game. First-year program Georgia State of the Football Championship Subdivision comes to Bryant-Denny Stadium at 7:30 p.m. Thursday before Alabama plays host to Auburn on Nov. 26.