STARKVILLE, Miss. | Once again, the University of Alabama combined championship defense, adequate offense and shaky special teams - but this time, the mixture was enough to win.
The No. 4 Crimson Tide contained Mississippi State's offense for most of the evening, taking a safe and solid, if unspectacular, 24-7 victory over the Bulldogs in front of a crowd of over 57,000, the second-largest crowd in Mississippi State history.
Eddie Lacy scored two rushing touchdowns and Trent Richardson added another score and gained 127 yards while carrying the ball 32 times, the heaviest single-night workload of his career.
The Crimson Tide defense, meanwhile, limited MSU to just 131 total yards, the Bulldogs' lowest output of the Dan Mullen era.
The Tide's physical strategy wore down the Bulldogs, as Alabama rushed for 139 yards in the fourth quarter.
The first half featured almost as many missed field goals (four) as points (seven), but the Crimson Tide did get the lone touchdown.
Two crucial penalties - a late hit on Marquis Maze's punt return and a pass interference call that gave UA a first down at the Bulldog 3 - helped set up the score, which came on Lacy's 2-yard run with 9:59 remaining in the half. Alabama missed two other scoring changes when field goal tries - one by Cade Foster, one by Jeremy Shelley - misfired.
The Alabama defense also did more than its fair share, holding the Bulldogs to just 69 yards in the half and thwarting a point-blank scoring chance late in the second quarter.
MSU linebacker Cameron Lawrence intercepted an AJ McCarron pass at the UA 29 and returned it to the 4, where McCarron made a touchdown-saving tackle. From there, the Tide defense, along with an MSU false start, pushed State back to the 12. Brian Egan, the second kicker used by MSU in the half, then missed on a 29-yard attempt, allowing UA to take a 7-0 lead into the locker room.
UA finally broke the game's field goal drought in the third quarter as Shelley hit a 24-yarder at the 7:32 mark.
Richardson added a 2-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter, putting UA ahead 17-0. But Ladarius Perkins returned the ensuing kickoff 68 yards to the UA 22 and MSU (5-5, 1-5 SEC) scored on a 12-yard Tyler Russell pass to Chris Smith, the first touchdown allowed by UA since Oct. 15.
Alabama continued to pound away, capping an all-rushing drive with Lacy's 32-yard touchdown run with 1:18 to play.
"Give them credit, they are one of top teams in the country," Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. "And if you are going to beat one of those teams, you can't make mistakes.
"We did all the little things we can't do to win. "
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.