By Jess Nicholas, TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
Nov. 13, 2011
Rock band The Afters counts among its songs one titled “Never Going Back To OK.” Alabama did just that against Mississippi State and it was just what the doctor ordered.
Aside from the running back tandem of Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy, Alabama was mostly just OK. But Alabama’s OK is better than the best 10 other SEC teams have to offer.
Both LSU and Alabama appeared to suffer hangovers following last week’s battle royale in Tuscaloosa. LSU kept Western Kentucky in the game for a half before pulling away late against the Hilltoppers. Alabama did the same thing in Starkville, though Mississippi State is a much better team than is WKU.
For a half, Alabama trudged through the motions. Determined to exploit the Bulldogs’ softness up the middle, Alabama pounded the football between the tackles and mixed in a handful of shots downfield. On defense, Alabama simply waited for State to make a mistake.
Alabama didn’t create dozens of turnovers. It didn’t win with explosive plays. Bulldog QB Tyler Russell was not buried beneath the Scott Field turf (although co-starter Chris Relf was knocked out on a rather benign-looking hit). Instead, Alabama simply gave it their best “OK,” and Mississippi State had no chance.
This is what the script will probably look like against Georgia Southern, by the way. GSU is probably better than Ole Miss this year and may be better than Kentucky. Georgia Southern, in other words, is not Georgia State. So don’t expect Alabama to automatically engage in a game of “Name That Walk-On” in the second half.
As injuries continue to mount for Alabama, look for even more “OK” next week, and maybe some the following week against Auburn. Auburn remains dangerous to the extent that Alabama gets fooled by Tiger trick plays (see 2009), but Auburn would need to rent Cam Newton for a week and hope that Alabama showed up a little less than OK for the Tigers to have more than just a freak shot at winning.
Mississippi State, on the other hand, needed even more help. The Bulldogs continue to struggle against SEC West opponents not named Ole Miss, and it’s not hard to see why. MSU has little depth, no explosiveness on the perimeter of either its offense or its defense, and any coaching mistake – such as the one Dan Mullen made when he removed Russell for Relf the final time – is magnified a hundredfold.
But it likely wouldn’t have mattered Saturday. Alabama’s playcalling was OK, the quarterback play was OK, the defense was OK (what does it say when yielding a single touchdown off a short field is considered OK rather than spectacular?). Aside from Richardson’s pounding and Lacy’s slashing of the Mississippi State defensive front, Alabama was as anonymous as generic-brand corn flakes.
As the Alabama game was ending Saturday, so too was Stanford’s game against Oregon. The Ducks capitalized on multiple Stanford errors to bury the Cardinal and end Stanford’s hope of a title shot. Alabama now needs help from either Oklahoma, Arkansas or Georgia, and maybe from two out of the three in order to reach the BCS title game.
If that happens, OK won’t be good enough. Alabama learned that against LSU.
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