November 15, 2009 12:09:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- The University of Alabama offense chose to change its approach during an open date earlier this season.
Coach Nick Saban thought his offense showed balance, but was looking forward to the day when it could open things up.
That time came Saturday night in a 31-3 victory against Mississippi State at Davis Wade Stadium.
Wide receiver Darius Hanks started it for the Crimson Tide with a 45-yard touchdown catch from quarterback Greg McElroy in the second quarter.
Teammates Julio Jones, Marquis Maze, and Mark Ingram also joined in on the fun.
Maze added a 42-yard catch, while Jones caught a 48-yard score, and Ingram broke loose on a 70-yard touchdown run.
"We utilized a lot of players," Saban said. "We have to spread teams out and make them defend."
The win kept Alabama (10-0, 7-0 Southeastern Conference) in the national title hunt, while MSU (4-6, 2-4) surrendered 444 yards of offense.
The Bulldogs had no answers and coach Dan Mullen said the big plays were "the difference in the game."
MSU linebacker Jamar Chaney said the defense wasn''t surprised by anything Alabama did, but one or two lapses made a difference.
"The one time you miss a gap or do something wrong, they are out of the gate, and that''s pretty much what happened," Chaney said. "It''s just a matter of focusing on your job and your assignment every play. You can''t take a snap off and look away from your keys the coaches tell you to read. That can never happen."
After a scoreless first quarter, Hanks broke down the sideline on a crossing pattern without a defender in the area. McElroy found him with ease with 12 minutes, 48 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
"When it''s wide open, that''s a busted coverage," Chaney said. "Give (Alabama) credit because they kept pushing and kept fighting. They did what they do, control the game and control the game, and they finally broke one."
Hanks had three catches for 59 yards, all in the first half. He entered the game as the team''s fifth-leading receiver with 13 catches for 198 yards and a long play of 35 yards.
Jones had four catches for 66 yards, while Maze had four catches for 55 yards.
Maze said the offense expects to play to a certain level and did a good job of getting there against MSU.
"We''re jelling as a team, not overlooking the small things," Maze said. "We fought hard all night and executed really well. That''s what it''s all about, executing."
n Notes: The Bulldogs wore black jerseys for the first time. ... MSU tailback Anthony Dixon had a season-high 59 yards receiving. ... Junior fullback Patrick Hanrahan made his first start for the Bulldogs. ... MSU has lost five consecutive games to ranked opponents dating back to last season. ... The Alabama defense has intercepted a pass in seven consecutive games. ... The Bulldogs were held without a touchdown for the first time this season.
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