October 28, 2012 1:19:48 AM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Mississippi State University football coach Dan Mullen may want to have another late-night conversation with his special teams coach.
The Bulldogs' fourth-year coach, who also instructs MSU's special teams unit, watched his Bulldogs commit three turnovers Saturday in a frustrating 38-7 loss to the No. 1 University of Alabama.
MSU (7-1. 4-1 Southeastern Conference) entered the game leading the nation in turnover margin (plus-16). Alabama ended the night plus-3 in that category.
"The little things made a huge difference, and the little things to me come down to attention to detail," Mullen said. "In these games, you have to have complete focus and execute at a high level for 60 minutes. We didn't do that."
The momentum might have flipped for the only time toward the Crimson Tide (8-0, 5-0) after All-SEC defensive back Dee Milliner blocked a 34-yard field goal attempt by kicker Devon Bell on MSU's opening possession.
After Alabama went 59 yards in the first drive to score a touchdown, MSU drove the length of the field only to have Bell's kick swallowed up by the outside rush of the Tide's junior cornerback.
Bell, a freshman from Vicksburg, is 9-for-15 this season on field goals.
"We just didn't get the ball up high enough," Mullen said.
In a back-to-back possessions, MSU fumbled a punt that led to an Alabama touchdown. The Crimson Tide found the end zone again on the ensuing kickoff to build a 38-0 lead.
"I thought turnovers would be important in this game," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "I think it was very important we didn't
turn the ball over and that we were plus three in turnovers. I think it made a huge difference."
After registering 42 penalty yards in its last three games, MSU tallied 51 penalty yards in the first half.
"We have to play better in every phase of the game next week," Mullen said.
Crimson Tide stops Perkins
The SEC's leading rusher never got rolling Saturday.
MSU junior tailback LaDarius Perkins had just 38 yards on 15 carries, and didn't touch the football after halftime. He entered the game averaging 103.6 yards rushing per game.
Alabama leads the nation in rushing defense, and has surrendered only 10 100-yard rushing games dating back to the 2005 season. Since Saban became Alabama's coach, the Crimson Tide have allowed just five tailbacks to eclipse the 100-yard mark.
Perkins became the third straight MSU starting tailback to earn less than 90 yards rushing in a game against Alabama. The other two, Anthony Dixon and Vick Ballard, are playing in the NFL.
MSU is now 0-6 all-time under Mullen when it rushes for less than 100 yards, and 0-7 against teams in the top 10 of the Associated Press Top 25 poll.
McCarron, Cooper leaves game with minor injuries
The lead pitch-and-catch duo for Alabama left the game early with injuries Saban doesn't think are serious.
Quarterback AJ McCarron, who was 16-for-23 for 208 yards and two touchdowns, left the field early in the fourth quarter and went to the Alabama locker room. The junior was back on the sidelines after the game shaking hands with MSU players.
Sophomore Blake Sims and redshirt freshman Phillip Ely replaced McCarron after Alabama took a 31-0 lead.
"He's got a back contusion," Saban said of McCarron. "It's from when he got sacked. He bruised his back. He could have gone back in the game. He could have played in the game. He should be fine for next week's game."
Ely threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to Kenyan Drake for Alabama's final score.
Freshman wide receiver Amari Cooper injured his ankle in the first quarter on a catch that went for negative-2 yards. Cooper had four catches for 47 yards and no touchdowns.
After the game, Saban said Cooper "played on it and will be fine" for Alabama's game next week at LSU.