Top-ranked Alabama survives scare

Top-ranked Alabama survives scare

November 18th, 2013 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron looks for an open receiver behind his blockers as Mississippi State defensive lineman P.J. Jones during their game in Starkville, Miss., in this file photo.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron evades a tackle by Mississippi State linebacker Benardrick McKinney during their game Saturday in Starkville, Miss.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

BCS STANDINGS

1. Alabama

2. Florida State

3. Ohio State

4. Baylor

5. Oregon

6. Auburn

7. Clemson

8. Missouri

9. Stanford

10. Oklahoma St.

Alabama won its 18th consecutive game away from Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday night, but the top-ranked Crimson Tide were far from impressive in a 20-7 win at Mississippi State.

Four turnovers, including two rare interceptions by quarterback AJ McCarron, kept the Tide from extending their streak of scoring 38 or more points to six consecutive games. Alabama's 20 points marked its lowest output of the season.

"That's not the kind of football we need to play if we're going to be the kind of team that we're capable of being," Alabama coach Nick Saban said in his news conference afterward. "We won the game, but we didn't really beat the other team."

Despite the subpar showing, Alabama (10-0 overall, 7-0 SEC) remained No. 1 in the Bowl Championship Series standings that were released Sunday night. Florida State and Ohio State were next in line, while Auburn, which hosts Alabama on Nov. 30, moved up to No. 6.

Auburn is off this week, while Alabama will host UTC in an opportunity to get back on track offensively.

"I think this was good for us," McCarron told reporters. "It makes us focus on working again in practice and not being complacent. We've got another tough road game the last game of the season at Auburn.

"It was good for us to struggle and still get a win, and it kind of reminds you that you're not as good as you think."

Alabama's defense and special teams were solid in Starkville, with the Crimson Tide holding Mississippi State to 197 total yards. The Tide forced seven punts and five three-and-outs.

Senior linebacker C.J. Mosley had another big game with eight tackles, but the star of the game may have been Cody Mandell. The senior punter and Ray Guy Award semifinalist had a career-long 63-yard kick early in the second quarter and finished with four punts for a 55-yard average.

"I think Cody did a fantastic job today, and one time he did it against the wind," Saban said. "The wind was a factor in the game, but Cody had a fantastic day. It was huge for us."

Mississippi State (4-6, 1-5) pulled within 10-7 less than five minutes into the third quarter when right tackle Charles Siddoway recovered a fumble by quarterback Tyler Russell, who had lost possession at Alabama's 3-yard line. The Crimson Tide responded with a nine-play, 77-yard drive and reclaimed a 10-point advantage when McCarron connected with Kevin Norwood for an 11-yard touchdown.

McCarron finished with 187 passing yards and 12 rushing yards to set Alabama's career record for total offense at 8,146 yards, breaking the 8,099 yards that quarterback John Parker Wilson amassed from 2005 to '08.

Tide tidbits

Alabama has recorded 10 wins for the sixth consecutive season and for the 33rd time overall. ... The Crimson Tide held Mississippi State to 53 rushing yards, marking the 42nd time in the last 63 games that an opponent has failed to gain 100 yards on the ground. ... Sophomore tailback T.J. Yeldon clinched his second 1,000-yard season and has 2,130 yards in 24 career games.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.