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November 12, 2011

Offensive line finds second half stride

STARKVILLE, Miss. | It took about a half to grease the wheels, but the University of Alabama offense found its stride in the second half of a 24-7 win over Mississippi State on Saturday night. Halftime adjustments and improved execution allowed the Crimson Tide to break away in a game that went to the half at only 7-0 in favor of UA.

"We changed formations a little bit. They really loaded the box quite a bit. Most of the good passing plays we made were on first down," UA coach Nick Saban said. "I think when a team plays you that way, you have to be willing to try to make those plays. We were fortunate that we were able to make a couple of them, and they turned out to be big plays for us."

By game's end, Trent Richardson had rushed for 127 yards and Eddie Lacy had added 96, including a 32-yard touchdown run to cap the scoring in the final minutes.

"We just have to do what we do," center William Vlachos said. "You're always happy to get a win on the road. They're always physical on defense, they always have a good plan and they're always going to be excited for this game. You're not always going to get up 42-0 at halftime. It is what it is. We did some good things in the second half; we did some good things in the first half, too. They have a good team. Nobody has blown them out this year."

Alabama did not convert a first down in its first two offensive possessions. Its early struggles came behind a reconfigured offensive line.

The Crimson Tide's usual starter at left tackle, Barrett Jones, missed the game with an ankle sprain. Alfred McCullough started in his place, which marked a return to the lineup for guard Anthony Steen. McCullough had started the previous two games at right guard after Steen sustained a concussion in Alabama's win over Ole Miss.

It was the third different starting lineup for the Crimson Tide's offensive front in its last four games. McCullough said he was pleased overall with his performance at left tackle.

"I think it went pretty well. I could've done some things better, but overall I think I did all right," McCullough said.

Saban said penalties were another contributing factor to early struggles offensively.

"We got into some different formations in the second half and I think we ran the ball a little more effectively," Saban said. "We still shot ourselves in the foot a few times with penalties that stopped us on a couple drives. Illegal motion, undisciplined type penalties, and that's not acceptable."

Alabama's pass protection was stellar throughout the game. Despite McCullough protecting McCarron's blind side for the first time all season, the third-year sophomore quarterback had ample time to throw on a consistent basis. He was not sacked all night, and Mississippi State's pass rush was credited with only two hurries.

"I think I did pretty good. I got off balance a couple of times," McCullough said. "But I did alright in pass protection."

Added Vlachos: "That's a testament to the other guys, not really me. We were going on silent count on the road with the crowd noise. Sometimes that's tough on those guys in protection, getting off at the count. Something we hang our hat on is protecting the quarterback - give him a lot of time to throw, and let him do his deal."

Reach Chase Goodbread at chase.goodbread@tuscaloosanews.com or at 205-722-0196.


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