(1) Alabama - 32, Mississippi State - 7
By John Zenor - AP Sports Writer
November 16, 2008
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP)—Now, Alabama waits.
Alabama defensive back Kareem Jackson (3) blocks a first-quarter
punt by Mississippi State punter Blake McAdams (43) resulting in a
The top-ranked Crimson Tide has the perfect record intact, the
Southeastern Conference Western Division title in hand and a shot
at the national championship within reach.
Safety Rashad Johnson had more pressing matters on his mind after
Saturday night’s 32-7 win over Mississippi State: That six-year
losing streak to Auburn. The Iron Bowl is two weeks and one
Thanksgiving holiday away, and the title talk can wait.
“We’re definitely confident going into the game,” Johnson said. “If
we play our game, we’ve got to win. We’ve got to determine what
happens, rather than adjust to what they do. It’s definitely an
important game. It means a lot to us seniors. It means a lot to
the team, too, being 11-0 now.”
But coach Nick Saban always preaches focusing on the next game.
Shouldn’t be hard this time, even with both teams enduring an extra
week’s buildup before meeting because the SEC no longer allows open
dates before the league championship game.
The Crimson Tide (11-0, 7-0) will play Florida for the SEC title
whatever happens in the Iron Bowl. The BCS national championship
game will require two more wins in an already surprising season.
Alabama needs another one to complete its first perfect regular
season since 1994. Incidentally, the Tide lost the league title to
Florida 24-23 that year.
But ‘Bama has been busy erasing unhappy history lately—from that
five-game losing streak to LSU to two years of frustration against
Mississippi State (3-7, 1-5) to the nine-year absence from the SEC
None of those streaks were quite as irksome as coming in second six
years running in that two-team battle for state supremacy and yearlong
bragging rights with Auburn (5-6, 2-5).
And now there’s an extra week to stew.
“No one ever really knows if the bye week is a good time or a bad
time,” Saban said. “I look at our team physically, emotionally and
mentally, and think that this is a good time for us to get a little
bit of rest. Even though we don’t have a lot of guys missing games we
have a lot of guys beat up.
“I also think emotionally, we’ve had a lot of tough games this year.
Our guys put a lot into it. They’ve played with a lot of intensity, a
lot of toughness, a lot of intangibles and probably challenged
themselves a little bit more than most teams that I’ve coached.”
Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville isn’t fond of the extra week of waiting,
and figures the Tide isn’t either.
“I’m sure both of us would love to play this week,” Tuberville said.
“I know I wish we were playing this week. It should be played this
The Tide has also found ways to dominate games offensively (Georgia
and Arkansas), defensively (Tennessee) and, against Mississippi State,
on special teams. The Tide’s special teams either scored or set up 26
points in the game.
Javier Arenas scored on an 80-yard punt return and returned another
46 yards to the 2 to make for an easy TD. Leigh Tiffin added field
goals of 35, 34 and 35 yards after coming in on an 0-for-3 stretch.
Plus, Kareem Jackson blocked a punt in the end zone for a safety and
the game’s first points. Punter P.J. Fitzgerald buried the ball at
Mississippi State’s 1 and 3-yard-line, leading to the safety and John
Parker’s 1-yard sneak for a touchdown.
“Coach always talks about the three phases of the game and we needed
to win the special teams phase to be successful,” said safety Rashad
Johnson, whose special teams play pinned State on its own goal line.
It wasn’t all about special teams though. Alabama’s defense held
Mississippi State to 167 total yards, stymied running back Anthony
Dixon and allowed Tyson Lee to complete only 11-of-28 passes.
Set up by Arenas’ returns, the Tide scored the game’s final 27 points
starting with five minutes left in the first half.
“Honestly, the best part was our play in the second half,” Arenas
said. “We came out in the second half and exploded.”
The fans also might have been a little more explosive than typical
thanks to Saban’s rant (including an expletive) on his weekly radio
show after a caller was a little too presumptive in assuming ‘Bama
would beat the 22-point underdogs.
“I asked the crowd to come out here tonight and be loud and
enthusiastic and, as much as any other game we’ve played all year,
they really helped the players,” Saban said after the game. “We were
tired and beat up and the crowd gave us a big lift.”