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October 28, 2012

Young defense impresses Saban

TUSCALOOSA | The defense wasn't perfect Saturday night. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix's first-quarter public dressing down by Nick Saban on the sideline provided proof of at least one busted coverage in the secondary. The results on the whole, however, were decisive.

Alabama unleashed its pass rush, with Adrian Hubbard and Quinton Dial creating havoc in the Mississippi State backfield, stymied the run and forced turnovers. The Crimson Tide dialed up another overwhelming defensive performance worthy of its No. 1 ranking in a 38-7 win.

UA entered with the top-ranked defensive unit in almost every major statistical category, including total defense, rushing defense and scoring defense. While Mississippi State moved the ball at times, the Bulldogs did nothing to change the prevailing thought that Alabama has the best defense in the nation.

Even Saban admitted he didn't expect his defense to jell so soon after losing five members of his 2011 championship defense to the NFL.

"For all the young players that we have, if you would have told me we'd be in the position statistically and scoring defense wise that we're in right now, I would have said, 'No way,'" Saban said. "These guys have really set out with an attitude that they want to prove something, and we've had some guys who've really stepped up as playmakers."

LaDarius Perkins came in leading the Southeastern Conference in rushing with 103.4 yards per game. He got just 38 against the Tide's stubborn bunch.

Mississippi State got 256 yards of total offense, 209 via the passing game, but three turnovers thwarted opportunities, including a first-and-goal from the UA 2.

Pinned at their own 2, the Bulldogs drove the length of the field through the air with Tyler Russell completing seven passes for 85 yards, leading to the game's pivotal sequence.

After getting stuffed on Russell's quarterback sneak and on a run up the middle by Perkins, MSU coach Dan Mullen opted to roll Russell out of the pocket on third down. Redshirt freshman defensive end D.J. Pettway stayed at home and kept containment, forcing Russell to throw over the middle, where free safety Robert Lester nabbed his 13th career interception.

"It's always important when you stop a team from scoring," Lester said. "To be able to stop them at the 1 was obviously a big play for us."

Mississippi State added a touchdown against the Alabama backups late in the fourth quarter, but by that time it was clear the Crimson Tide defensive unit had vanquished another foe.

Saban saw good and bad in the 31-point win.

"We probably didn't play as good of pass defense as I would have liked, but I thought the front did a pretty good job," he said. "I was really pleased with the way they played. I think we affected the quarterback a little bit. We didn't get a lot of sacks, but I think we did affect him some.

"I think we made a couple of errors out there when they had guys open and I think we're going to need to play better than that down the road."




Reach Aaron Suttles at aaron.suttles@tuscaloosanews.com or at 205-722-0229.


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