Saturday, November 05, 2005
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STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) - Alabama's defense scored a touchdown against Mississippi State. So did the special teams.
It's the offense that's having trouble finding the end zone, and that lack of productivity is nagging Brodie Croyle and the fourth-ranked Crimson Tide.
``Our defense is good enough to win the national championship,'' Croyle said. ``We just aren't playing up to their standards.''
Kenneth Darby ran for 122 yards, mostly between the 20s, and Alabama returned two turnovers for touchdowns in the Tide's 17-0 victory over the struggling Bulldogs on Saturday.
Croyle was 14-of-22 for 116 yards for Alabama (9-0, 6-0 Southeastern Conference), which forced four takeaways and held the Bulldogs to 26 yards rushing in beating Mississippi State coach and former 'Bama player Sylvester Croom.
But the senior quarterback also threw two interceptions, and was picked off for the first time since September by an inspired Mississippi State defense that entered, statistically, as barely mediocre compared to the rest of the SEC.
``It's on my shoulders. We did not play good at all today,'' Croyle said. ``We moved the ball at times, but I'm the quarterback, I'm supposed to be the leader and I threw two picks. That's totally unacceptable.''
Alabama averaged just 12 points in its three SEC games since big-play wideout Tyrone Prothro was lost for the season with a broken leg.
``If (Croyle) was happy right now, we would be wondering what was wrong with him,'' coach Mike Shula said. ``We have not been playing to our potential offensively, and Brodie knows that.''
The Tide's last trip into the state of Mississippi came down to the final play - it needed a last-second field goal three weeks ago to beat Ole Miss - but this time, Alabama's dominating defense ensured no drama would be necessary.
The Tide got rolling on the second-half kickoff. Jimmy Johns jarred the ball from Mississippi State returner Derek Pegues. Matt Miller scooped it up and returned it 15 yards to give Alabama a 10-0 lead 7 seconds into the third quarter.
``I'm just making sure (the play) doesn't bounce outside. I saw the ball bounce one time, and it was a gift from God,'' Miller said. ``I picked it up and found the end zone.''
On the Bulldogs' next possession, quarterback Mike Henig fell and flipped the ball directly to defensive lineman Rudy Griffin, who brought it back 17 yards for another score.
``It kind of happened fast and slow,'' Griffin said. ``The ball was in my hands fast, but when I ran to the end zone, it seemed like it was happening forever.''
Henig, a redshirt freshman making his first start, was 9-of-28 for 78 yards with three interceptions for the Bulldogs (2-7, 0-6), who have lost five straight and were shut out for the second time this season.
``If we play like we did today, we could have won the last two games,'' Croom said. ``This was the first time that the seniors stepped up and never gave up.''
Mississippi State has been outscored by a combined 153-33 in its SEC losses, and the league's worst offense was no match for the Tide, which has one of the nation's best defenses.
``They did everything we expected them to on defense,'' Henig said.
Jerious Norwood, who set Mississippi State's single-game and career rushing yardage records in the last two weeks, was held to 39 yards on 18 attempts. The Bulldogs were held to a season-worst 103 total yards.
The Bulldogs couldn't take advantage of two mistakes by Croyle. His first interception came on the Tide's opening drive.
Later, Croyle fumbled as he was hit by Willie Evans and Titus Brown returned it to the 'Bama 18. The drive stalled at the 10, and with kicker Keith Andrews out (strained groin), a field goal wasn't an option and Mississippi State was stopped on fourth down.
Alabama responded by driving 70 yards to the Bulldogs 20 to set up Jamie Christensen's 38-yard field goal for the only points of the first half.
Croom, a standout lineman at Alabama in the 1970s who was a teammate of Croyle's father, was a top candidate for the Crimson Tide job, but Shula was hired instead and Croom wound up at Mississippi State.
He coached against his alma mater for the second time, and this one seemed far less emotional than the last - a 30-14 win for the Tide last year in Croom's hometown of Tuscaloosa.