(1) Alabama - 32, Mississippi State - 7
By John Zenor - AP Sports Writer
November 16, 2008

  Kareem Jackson
Alabama defensive back Kareem Jackson (3) blocks a first-quarter punt by Mississippi State punter Blake McAdams (43) resulting in a safety.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP)—Now, Alabama waits.

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 championship game.

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 week.”

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.”