TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Questions of how Mississippi State”s football team would respond in the wake of team tragedy clouded its bye-week.
Questions of how No. 11 University of Alabama (8-2, 5-2) would rebound from its national title-buster loss to LSU were paired with the questionable status of running back Trent Richardson.
Alabama, however, showed no ill effects from a physical match with LSU, topping the No. 17 Bulldogs 30-10 Saturday night.
Alabama”s defense sacked MSU quarterback Chris Relf five times and held the MSU passing game under 150 yards for the sixth time this season.
Alabama used scoring plays of 45, 78 and 56 yards to put MSU (7-3, 3-3) in a place where it had rarely found itself this season: a double-digit hole.
Without a reliable passing game to play catchup, the Bulldogs compounded the come-from-behind effort with seven penalties.
Relf, who finished with 70 yards on 8-of-16 completions, was yanked in the fourth quarter in favor of backup Tyler Russell, who had a touchdown pass to Chad Bumphis.
“I don”t think at any point we just got blown away up front,” MSU head coach Dan Mullen said. “It was just big plays that hurt us. When you give up a big play and give up some momentum, you have to come right back and respond and make a big play yourself. We didn”t tonight.
“That wasn”t the type of football we”ve been playing.”
Mississippi State effectively held Alabama running back Mark Ingram in check in the first half, limiting the Heisman Trophy winner to 25 yards on 11 carries. The Bulldogs tallied seven tackles for a loss in the first half.
Ingram was the only rushing option for Alabama, which saw backup Trent Richardson warm up but not play. Richardson was hampered by a knee injury this week.
While MSU keyed on stopping Ingram, who finished with 53 yards on 18 carries, quarterback Greg McElroy enjoyed an efficient and explosive night accounting for 13 of the team”s 19 first downs. McElroy finished the game with 227 yards on 12 of 18 completions. He had a pair of touchdowns and a pick.
The Crimson Tide didn”t have to do much work to take a 27-3 lead early in the third quarter, first going ahead by 17 through an Ingram 78-yard touchdown return. Ingram”s score gave Alabama a 20-3 halftime lead.
After MSU opened the third with another mistaken-ridden drive — two straight sacks after picking up two first downs — Alabama registered its second straight one-play score when Julio Jones took an end around 56 yards to the end zone.
Both plays were designed to attack the right edge of the Bulldogs defense, where both Jones and Ingram had clear paths up the sideline. The Crimson Tide”s first touchdown — a 45-yarder from McElory to Maze — also exposed MSU”s poor tackling and under-sized edge players.
“We knew that we couldn”t leave on one one tackles,” MSU defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “The one right before halftime, it caused a one on one and we didn”t make it. Now you have to give credit to them, they”re hard to tackle. And they made plays, and that”s what it came down to.
“We knew we had to bring our feet to the ball carrier, and we didn”t do a very good job of that.”
Even when MSU”s defense had something positive happen, the Bulldogs” shell-shocked demeanor was ever-present.
MSU linebacker Chris White intercepted McElroy at the Alabama 41, but head coach Dan Mullen watched the drive fizzle with a delay of game and two dropped passes.
“Even when he got the pick, I could look around and see that we weren”t mentally in it,” MSU center J.C. Brignone said. “It was kind of like we saw a ghost. We didn”t know how to come out of it.”
Alabama”s offense totaled 452 yards on the night behind 175 yards on the ground, despite Richardson missing the game.
UA head coach Nick Saban praised his defense in holding MSU to just three yards a carry, far below its season average. His approach was to play zone coverage against mobile quarterback Relf, who finished with 26 rushing yards on 13 carries.
“We didn”t turn our back to him often in terms of running and covering people,” Saban said. “It”s important that when you play zone, you get a good pass rush, so that they don”t the ability to stretch your zones. I thought we did a pretty good job of affecting them today.”
MSU running back Vick Ballard finished with 80 yards on 19 carries to lead MSU.
The Bulldogs return home next Saturday for Senior Night against Arkansas.
Alabama hosts Georgia State on Thursday.