(2) Alabama - 31, Mississippi State - 3
- Gentry Estes, Mobile Press-Register
November 16, 2009

  Darius Hanks
Darius Hanks runs a second quarter 45-yard touchdown pass reception against Mississippi State.
Photo Credit: Rogelio V. Solis -- Associated Press
TUSCALOOSA -- Alabama's offense ended October with growing concern about a new label it didn't want: One-dimensional.

"I feel like we had a huge point to prove," Crimson Tide receiver Darius Hanks said. "Our running game has been excellent, and the passing game has lacked a little bit."

Suddenly, the Crimson Tide's passing attack has reawakened in November. Big plays have again become a factor for a pro-style offense that prides itself on a balanced approach. Hints of a revival against LSU were confirmed during Saturday night's 31-3 victory at Mississippi State, during which quarterback Greg McElroy completed touchdown passes of 45 and 48 yards.

"We have too many playmakers not to use them," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "I think 15 (Hanks) can make plays, 4 (Maze) can make plays, 8 (Jones) can make plays. We've got a couple of good runners. The offensive line has done a pretty good job for us all year. We've got a couple of tight ends that can make plays.

"I think all of those guys we need to utilize in our offense, and I think we've done a better job of that and I think we're getting better results now."

McElroy posted 468 passing yards against LSU and Mississippi State after reaching only 507 in the entire month of October. That spell allowed tailback Mark Ingram to compile big numbers and emerge as a candidate for the Heisman Trophy, but it also resulted in a 12-quarter string where the offense managed only two touchdowns, neither of which was through the air.

Ingram has continued to excel the past two games, netting nearly 150 rushing yards each time. But the difference has been the help he has received by the return of the deep passing threat to Alabama's offense. The Crimson Tide now has five completions of at least 30 yards in the past two games after not hitting a pass longer than 27 yards in any of its four games in October.

"I guess we were kind of overdue," said Hanks after the victory in Starkville. "It was expected tonight that we had to come up and play big, and we did. We made a lot of big plays in the passing game. It was huge."

"We're just kind of hitting on some of the long balls that we had been hitting the first couple of games of the season," McElroy said. "We really took it to heart and really made a point of emphasis during the off week, and so far it's been (there) the last two ballgames."

The change has been one of philosophy, not personnel. And it goes back to the Tennessee game, which sounded alarm bells for an unbeaten team that needed a late blocked field goal to survive.

After the offense managed only four field goals in a 12-10 escape, Saban bemoaned the lack of the Crimson Tide's confidence to try for explosive plays. Publicly and to the team, he stressed the need for Alabama to be more aggressive offensively, saying all along that it wasn't Alabama's inability to throw deep. It was that the Crimson Tide somehow became reluctant to try to do it.

"During the bye week, we went back to doing some things and opened it up a little bit, short passes, long passes, taking more shots down the field," Saban said. "But we've tried to utilize more players in the offense, and don't be so risk-aversive in terms of what we're doing. Spread it out, make them defend the field, and I think we've been doing a better job of that."

Alabama's defensive players noticed a difference in practice and now in games.

"Learning from the mistakes they made before," Crimson Tide cornerback Javier Arenas said. "It has nothing to do with ability, because every person on the offense is outstanding. It was just learning from mistakes and carrying it on the field and carrying it on with confidence, too, so you can make plays."

For what it's worth, Saban still hasn't seen enough. He stated that "we probably didn't do enough tonight," regarding deep shots down the field.

Hanks and Jones were wide open on both touchdown tosses, and in each instance MSU's defensive backs began creeping near the line in anticipation of a run by Ingram or tailback Trent Richardson.

While Hanks sped down the sideline and shook a tackler to score in the second quarter, Jones was all by himself when McElroy hit him in stride. The Bulldogs' defense, again cheating on the run, focused on a short route by Hanks, leaving Jones all alone.

"It was one of those moments where you're just, 'Don't overthrow him,'" McElroy said with a grin.

"It's good having those playmakers," Maze said. "It's just like Florida last year with those guys. (Quarterback Tim) Tebow had a lot of guys that made plays for him, so it made his job easier. That's what we're out here to do, make Greg McElroy's job easier."

The Crimson Tide take on Chattanooga next Saturday, Nov. 21 in Tuscaloosa. Kickoff is scheduled for 12:31 a.m. Central Time on the SEC Network.