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Post-game at Davis Wade Stadium: Another Tide victory in Starkville as No. 1 Alabama overwhelms MSU 20-7




Matt Stevens


STARKVILLE - What we learned? 




The pomp and circumstance surrounding a matchup with the number one ranked and two-time defending national champion Alabama meant nothing once the football was kicked off.  


The problem MSU (4-6, 1-5 in Southeastern Conference) hasn't figured yet is nothing on the giant video board, on Twitter or advertising could help the Bulldogs make fundamental plays necessary to pull off a monumental upset Saturday night.  


Following Alabama's 20-7 victory in Starkville, MSU has now lost six straight in the series and 11 of the last 13 games to the Crimson Tide. The Bulldogs now must sweep the final two games of the 2013 season against Arkansas and Ole Miss to make it four straight bowl games under head coach Dan Mullen.  


Alabama (10-0, 7-0 in Southeastern Conference) took the opening possession on a 14-play drive for the game's first points, a 33-yard field goal by Cade Foster. It took MSU nearly a quarter and a half of game time to even run 14 total plays in the game.  


MSU couldn't convert on two plays from the Alabama 2-yard-line and completed the disappointment with a botched 23-yard field goal by Evan Sobiesk. 


At the end of the half, the achilles heel of the Bulldogs season bit MSU again as Alabama executed a late touchdown drive that finished with a 18-yard touchdown strike with 20 seconds left on the clock. The pitch and catch from Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron to Brian Vogler was the sixth time this season MSU has allowed points with 2 minutes, 16 seconds or less left in the first half. Counting the last minute drive at Auburn to help the Tigers rally for a win, MSU has allowed a opponent to score seven times this season at the end of either half.  




- MSU defense stands tall against Alabama 




Thanks to Bulldogs defensive coordinator Geoff Collins' aggressive mayhem style attack, the Tide were simply searching for answers in what was its most challenging test since a road win at Texas A&M in early September.  


"Obviously Alabama is the team that set the bar in this league and in the country and that's the bar we'll continue to try and go after starting tomorrow," MSU coach Dan Mullen said.  


As per team policy, MSU did not make staff coordinators available after the contest Saturday night.  


However, thanks to a inefficient offensive performance that totaled just 197 total yards, MSU's defensive players will get no credit for keeping the home team reasonably close in Saturday's 20-7 loss to No. 1 Alabama.  


"Our defense was huge in making big plays for us tonight to keep us in the game," Mullen said. "I would've liked to have seen more pressure on the passer but overall it was a pretty good effort." 


The Bulldogs forced four turnovers from the Crimson Tide (10-0, 7-0 in SEC), which came to a raucous Davis Wade Stadium Saturday night only surrendering just turnovers this season. The fumble early in the third quarter by Alabama tailback T.J. Yeldon resulted in MSU's only touchdown of the game. 


Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron hadn't thrown a interception in in last 139 passes but the senior signal caller also hadn't played against a defense that primarily used Taveze Calhoun either. The Bulldogs sophomore cornerback picked off McCarron twice for his first career interceptions and as tradition, handed the ball to Collins each and every time.  


"It was big tonight for my confidence to get two picks but I'd trade those right now for a win right now," Calhoun said. "I hate to lose and right now the feeling of my two picks doesn't wipe away the loss." 


Calhoun has made it a habit of having big plays when MSU's defense is in a critical spot starting with scooping up Nickoe Whitley's blocked field goal and returned it 68 yards to the Oklahoma State 10-yard line to end the first half of the 2013 season opener. The season-opening loss in Houston was his first career start but the 6-foot-1 product from Morton has earned that spot in each of the last four games.  




- Russell gets start at QB and then gets hurt in the fourth quarter 




Mississippi State went back to the original starting lineup introduction on the video board at Davis Wade with Tyler Russell front and center as the final player announced. 


Senior quarterback Tyler Russell got his fifth straight start of the 2013 season and the news was announced by MSU officials over a hour before the opening kickoff. 


The Bulldogs fifth-year signal caller finished the 20-7 loss to No. 1 Alabama Saturday night 15 of 24 for 144 yards and one interception but was forced to leave the game with a reported shoulder injury late in the fourth quarter.  


"He got checked out by the doctors and he said he was okay but (Russell) wasn't sure he could put enough on the ball when he went back out there," MSU coach Dan Mullen said. "He then came off and said he didn't think he could help the team and throw the football. So I went with the kid that could throw it at all." 


True freshman Damian Williams saw his first action since a 62-7 blowout victory over Troy on Sept. 21. In what Mullen described as a "unfair situation" the former three-star product from Louisiana finished 0 for 5 and was sacked once while leading the final two unsuccessful drives in the contest.  


MSU sophomore quarterback Dak Prescott was ruled inactive by Mullen after suffering a pinched nerve in his left arm in the loss last week at Texas A&M. The Bulldogs fifth-year head coach said Prescott's status wouldn't be evaluated for practice until Wednesday and he was watching warmups in sweatpants over a hour before the opening kickoff. 


"Dak is day to day and at least, that's what they tell them," Mullen said. "We'll evaluate Tyler and Dak tomorrow and see if they can go. If they can't, we'll get Damian ready to play." 




- Yeldon hits big runs for season-high effort on MSU defense 




The fumble that resulted in MSU's only score of the night didn't completely wipe away another solid effort by Alabama sophomore tailback T.J.Yeldon. He finished with his fifth performance of over 100 yards on the ground and 6.7 yards per touch. Yeldon's 160 yards were a season high for the preseason first team All-SEC selection. 


"He's just so tough to bring down and it's a combination of size, strength and best vision you'll see," MSU freshman defensive lineman Chris Jones said.  




- Special teams hurts MSU again as Sobiesk and Swedenburg struggle in kicking game 




MSU coaches thought they had this kicking game problem figured but a late season personnel switch couldn't even contain more missed opportunities.  


Walk-on freshman kicker Evan Sobiesk, who had made 1 of 2 in the last two weeks, missed on a 23-yard chip shot in the first half that would've tied the score. Sobiesk, who had won the job from sophomore Devon Bell, was a major reason MSU was 1 of 3 in the red zone against the Crimson Tide Saturday night.  


"We have to be more consistent in every phase of our kicks, period," Mullen said. 


MSU is now 7 of 15 on field goals this season with the longest conversion being a 40-yard attempt by Bell in the season opener against Oklahoma State. Bell took the first MSU punt of the night and downed a 47-yard kick inside the 10-yard-line. However, Mullen then decided to turn to senior Baker Swedenburg for the final five punts and he managed just a 41.4 yard average. 




What we heard?  




Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen:  




"Obviously that was a tough loss for us right there. I thought our kids did some good things and I'll give a lot of credit to Alabama, because they showed why they are the No. 1 team in the country. Their kids made plays in critical moments.  


"We made a lot of plays tonight and I think our kids played hard, but they [Alabama] made more plays in every single phase of the game. I think we had a couple of dropped passes and they didn't. They averaged 55 yards per punt and we didn't. They had better punt returns and we had opportunities in punt return, but didn't do it. They scored in the red zone and we didn't. They got the ball before half and had that critical score, but we didn't get the stop. Give them [Alabama] credit. They did the things that you do as the No. 1 team in the country. Obviously they have set the bar and that's the bar we are looking to get to. We are going to relentlessly continue to pursue that."  




On expectations coming into the game ...  




"I'll be perfectly honest with you, we expected to win the game. Maybe there is not a person sitting here and maybe there wasn't a person sitting out in the stands who did. I can guarantee you in that locker room there is not one person who didn't expect to win the game coming in here tonight. We expected to stop them and we expected to score, but we didn't do that. We didn't stop them enough and we didn't score enough. We have to keep fighting, because we have a tough game against Arkansas next week and we have to find a way to bounce back and win that one and get ourselves to a bowl game."  




On Damian Williams' play late in the fourth quarter...  




"That was a great learning experience and a tough situation for that kid to step into. He stepped in and made a couple of good throws, but he still has a couple of things he has to learn. On that fourth down he should have taken a shot the first time. On the next possession we had two drops. We make those catches and score and it's a six- point game with three minutes to go."  




MSU sophomore CB Taveze Calhoun:  




On the defense playing well and being able to take advantage of it:  




"We had a good game plan coming in. The coaches did a good job, and we just played with relentless effort the whole night."  




On getting interceptions against one of the most efficient passers and how it influenced his confidence:  




"It was big for my confidence. But it still hurts to lose. We just have to get back to work. I would rather win than get two picks any day."  




MSU freshman QB Damian Williams 




On his first SEC action coming against Alabama:  




"I knew earlier in the week I was going to at least get a couple of snaps, but I credit the coaches for preparing me."  




On playing against Troy and being prepared for this game ...  




"It definitely helped prepare me for the game and get into the flow of college football. It's totally different from high school."  




MSU freshman DT Chris Jones  




On putting more pressure on the quarterbacks:  




"I'm put in positions to make plays, so I'm trying to figure out all the plays. The more I learn, the better I get. I try to get better every game and learn my mistakes."  




On playing the No. 1 team and playing with confidence:  




"We always have confidence. Playing the No. 1 team is an opportunity most people don't get. That's a great opportunity to have, and we try to come seize the moment."  




Alabama head coach Nick Saban:  




"You know, it's always good to win an SEC game, especially on the road. We typically struggle when we come over here and play. You have to give Mississippi State's players and coaches a lot of credit. They had a really good plan. They played very physical.  


"We struggled to run the ball at times in the first half. We didn't control the line of scrimmage like we would have liked. We turned the ball over four times. That's not the kind of football that we need to play if we're going to be able to be the kind of team we are capable of being.  


"The defense did a great job at the end of the game to make those stops after those turnovers in really tough field position. They were one score from really getting back into the game so you have to say a lot about the resiliency of the team in terms of hanging in there.  


"We won the game but we really didn't beat the other team. That's really not how we usually try and do it, but there's a lot our players can learn from this in terms of how prepared they were, what their mental energy and intensity was going into the game so they could execute the way they needed to and how we prepared throughout the week.  


"I would much rather have a team that wants to see how far it can go in terms of what their commitment is and what their sight is in terms of what they could accomplish, but that takes a heck of a lot of process. It takes a lot of discipline. It takes a lot of character. We have to have those things if we want to separate from those other teams. That's something we have to prove that we can do. I think there's a lot to be learned by this.  


"We have to prepare our players better. That's on us. That's on me so however we played today is my responsibility. We didn't get them prepared to play well. We didn't get them mentally focused so they could play their best. I also think you have to give the other team a lot of credit because they played really well. We have a lot of respect for their players and coaches for the way they played today."  




On taking the penalty on third down:  




"I just think fourth-and-one at the one that the advantages are with the offense. We go for it every time if it's fourth-and-one at the one. I can't remember the last time we've been stopped. A third-and-six play at the six is with the field shrunken. You have a lot better chance to be successful. We had some big stops down there, no doubt."  




On defensive stops: 




"We were in control of the game. We had a big run. We had a guy wide open and threw the ball to the inside. It was not a good throw. We had a little pressure and made the quarterback reset his feet and throw the ball off balance. The guy picks it and they get great field possession.  


"I was really pleased by the way our defense got two stops after that interception and the fumble. It's critical in the game. It's a turning point in the game to get those stops. The defense showed a lot of character in those two circumstances."  




Alabama senior OL Anthony Steen 




On the game:  




"It was the most physical game we played all season. It was a battle upfront. It was the most difficult game I have played so far this season."  




On what made MSU effective: 




"It's hard to say. Some times they just made the right calls. They were lined up perfect for what we were running. It was more of who won the battle upfront.  


"It took us a while to warm up and we had our ups and downs but luckily we won the game."  


Alabama junior WR Christion Jones 


On the game:  




"We still didn't play Bama ball. We did in spurts but we didn't consistently."  


On the hangover from beating LSU last week: 




"No. That's not an excuse. Even if there was that's not an excuse. I don't think it was. We practiced like we usually practice during the week and nothing changed.  


"It was a tough game last week and this was a tough game, too. Even though you have a tough game, next week's game is going to be tough. We still have to play no matter what happens so I don't think that is an excuse for us."  




On Cody Mandell's punt:  




"He did a great job and always does a great job. This year he has been very consistent with his punts. He put our defense in very good positions."  




What's next?  




At Arkansas (3-7, 0-6 in SEC), in Little Rock  




Following Alabama's 20-7 victory in Starkville, MSU has now lost six straight in the series and 11 of the last 13 games to the Crimson Tide. The Bulldogs now must sweep the final two games of the 2013 season against Arkansas and Ole Miss to make it four straight bowl games under head coach Dan Mullen.  


"It's not very difficult at all because we expect to win every game we play in so why would that be any different?," Mullen said. "We've played the hardest schedule in the United States and we still expect to win every game we play." 


The Razorbacks rank 81st in the FBS in rushing yards per game allowed (178.8) and have given up 862 rushing yards in the last three games (287.3 YPG). Tackling has been a big problem. The Hogs have given up numerous big plays on the ground that should have been stopped near the line of scrimmage. 




All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.



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