TUSCALOOSA _ Boing.
That loud sound heard around the University of Alabama campus Saturday night wasn't necessarily from any single play or even the overall celebration from the 30-10 victory at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Rather it was the football team rebounding from last week's loss at LSU, and simultaneously sending Mississippi State back to Starkville knowing that it had been soundly defeated.
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With big plays and some solid defense, the No. 12 Crimson Tide (8-2, 5-2 SEC) never trailed and used an explosive second quarter to essentially put the game away early. With the Bulldogs averaging just 3.0 yards per carry, and not known for their passing proficiency, much of the second half was spent killing the clock.
"I've experienced teams that haven't fought back from this," senior quarterback Greg McElroy said. "I think back in '07 when we lost to LSU in a tight one and never recovered as we lost four straight. It's good to get that bad taste out of our mouths."
Although the statistics didn't necessarily reflect it, Alabama's victory was so lopsided that McElroy took one snap in the fourth quarter and then gave way to backup A.J. McCarron. Except for the reserves getting a little sloppy and Mississippi State scoring late touchdown, it may have been the closest the Crimson Tide has been to a complete win this season.
"I was pleased," said Coach Nick Saban, who used the word six times during the early stages of his post-game press conference.
"I was pleased with how anxious they were to bounce back and compete, to be relentless in the game, to try to be physical and to establish the kind of identity for our team that we want to have in terms of intensity, toughness, ability to execute and the focus we need to have. I was pleased with the way we did that."
Although both sides came out running a no-huddle attack, neither shook the opposition's determination in stopping the run. Having more success, the Tide eventually reaped the rewards when the Bulldogs had to pass after falling behind. The better pressure helped lead to a season-high five sacks and two Robert Lester interceptions - for an SEC-leading seven this season.
"Tonight we sort of came together and did what we were supposed to do," junior nose tackle Josh Chapman said. "That was one thing that we knew that we had to do. All season long we haven't been getting much pressure. We've been capable of doing it."
Meanwhile, it turned out to be just a matter of when the offensive would break through, not if. While No. 19 MSU (7-3, 3-3) was sending run-blitz after run-blitz to both limit Ingram and try to take advantage of sophomore guard Barrett Jones being sidelined by an ankle sprain, the offense meandered to a 6-3 lead. At one point four consecutive Ingram carries were stopped behind the line of scrimmage (for minus-8 yards), when redshirt freshman D.J. Fluker was reinserted for the first time since sustaining a painful groin injury against South Carolina.
It took a series, but then things started to click when the Tide started attacking the edges, beginning with a simple sideline pass to junior Marquis Maze. When he ran through a poor tackle attempt by sophomore cornerback Corey Broomfield, his 45-yard touchdown broke the game open.
"A lot of people underestimate me because I'm small," Maze said.
He nearly topped that on his next touch, fielding a punt at the Alabama 19 and appeared to take it for another score, only junior Alex Watkins drew Saban's ire by being flagged for a block to the back. Coming in, MSU had given up 16 yards on punt returns all season.
But the Tide got the points anyway on the next play, when on a screen to Ingram junior wide receiver Julio Jones got just enough of a block on the nearest defender to help the running back break into open field and then pull away for a 78-yard score - the longest play of his career.
"I'm not the first read on that," Ingram said. "Just three steps up and come back."
"I was just glad we got the score," Maze said.
Even though Alabama was up only 20-3 at halftime, the two sides just needed one possession each to end any lingering doubt about the outcome. MSU got the ball first, only to be quickly slammed by Courtney Upshaw and Damion Square sacks.
Meanwhile, on the Tide's first snap Jones took end-around 56 yards touchdown and 27-3 lead. McElroy's reaction said it all when he ran over and joined junior receiver Darius Hanks, who had made one of the key blocks, for a Laurel-and-Hardy handshake complete with the head bow.
"All I had to do was run," Jones said.
"He was talking earlier this week about how I need a receiving touchdown and he needs a rushing touchdown," Ingram said. "It's quite a coincidence that they both happened."
Actually, despite just the one carry Jones led the team in rushing, but Maze had that honor among the receivers with five receptions for 89 yards. No one seemed to mind. That's because Alabama played more like a team, which was really why Saban used the word "pleased" so much.
"We still have a lot to play for even though we may not have a chance at the national championship," Maze said.