Crimson Tide takes down Bulldogs
By By Mark Etheridge / special to The Star
Nov. 10, 2002
TUSCALOOSA, Ala Alabama's offense won the first half and it's defense won the second. Between the two, they managed to defeat Mississippi State 28-14 Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Alabama quarterback Tyler Watts was the story passing for 223 yards on 16 of 22 passing. He had three touchdowns and led an Alabama offense that did not turn the ball over.
Watts did it on the ground, through the air, and with his blocking to give the Crimson Tide an early lead. The senior completed passes to Triandos Luke, Sam Collins, and Ray Hudson on the eighty yard 12-play drive. The Tide also featured the option attack with Hudson and Santonio Beard doing the damage. Watts got into the act with a couple of keepers and a downfield block to spring Beard. The home team reached paydirt as Watts lofted a pass to Luke in the corner of the end zone from fifteen yards out.
Mississippi State answered right back on their opening drive. Quarterback Kevin Fant found Darnell Jones for thirteen yards and then scrambled for the first down on a third and nine. Consecutive fifteen yard penalties took the Bulldogs inside the Alabama twenty. The drive stalled on the fourteen and Brent Smith kicked a thirty yard field goal.
After a holding penalty set back Alabama following the ensuing kickoff, Watts went to work again. The senior found tight end Clint Johnston for 23 yards. Consecutive running plays by Hudson and Shaud Williams netted twenty-five more. Watts then found Hudson on a wheel route for a thirty-two yard touchdown, Hudson's first as a collegian.
Just as was the earlier case, Mississippi State rallied back to cut into the Tide lead. Fant led a methodical 14 play 79 yard drive for a touchdown. The Bulldogs were fortunate recovering three of their own fumbles on the drive, two committed by senior tailback Dontae Walker. On a critical third and two play inside the Alabama ten, Fant connected with tight end Donald Lee setting up first and goal. After a pair runs moved the ball to the two, Fant found Ray-Ray Bivines for a score. Fant converted the two-point conversion with a pass to Justin Jenkins.
Just three minutes later Alabama scored its third touchdown. Watts found Luke for fifteen yards and a personal foul on MSU gave up fifteen more. After Watts kept on the option for 16 yards, MSU's defense stiffened setting up a third and ten. Beard took an option pitch and rumbled all the way to the MSU one. On second down, Shaud Williams followed the lead block of receiver Dre Fulgham into the corner of the end zone for a score.
The scoring continued as MSU took advantage of a Jerious Norwood thirty-seven yard run to move into scoring position. Brent Smith converted a thirty-two yard field goal cutting the lead to seven.
At the 3:24 mark in the first half, the game saw its first punt as Alabama's Lane Bearden punched a forty yarder.
Alabama picked up where it left off opening the second half with an 80 touchdown drive. Watts got his third touchdown pass of the day finding Luke for 36 yards on a fourth and eleven play.
The quarterback Watts felt no added pressure on the fourth down play. "It was just another play," Watts said. "Any time you have a defense like ours it takes the pressure off. (Luke) did a great job to get open."
The defensive coordinators adjustments paid off as both defenses throttled the offenses.
Mississippi State head coach Jackie Sherrill explained. However we didn't execute and we didn't throw and catch. They fought really hard.
Certainly you don't like to get beat. When you play like this you have a lot to be proud of and be thankful for."
Finally MSU's special teams got the break they needed. Kevin Dockery blocked Lane Bearden's punt giving the Bulldogs the ball at the Bama 24.
Defensive coordinator Carl Torbush's troops responded forcing MSU to go for the first down on a fourth and seven. Fred Reid was dropped just short of a first down by Kindal Moorehead turning the ball over on downs.
MSU got another break in the kicking game after forcing Alabama to three and out. Bearden, playing with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, felt the MSU pressure and pulled the ball down. The senior attempted a pass that fell incomplete giving the Bulldogs the ball at the Bama 16.
The same Bulldog offense that moved the ball at will in the first half faltered in crunch time. After failing to advance the ball on the first three plays, the Bulldogs again went for the first down on fourth and ten. Fants pass to Bivines skipped low allowing Alabama to escape once again.
Luke led the Tide receivers with 128 yards on 7 catches. Beard paced the Tide rushers with 76 yards on 14 totes. The freshman Norwood led MSU's rushers with 62 yards on nine carries. Fant finished 19 of 33 for 127 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Alabama (8-2 5-1) will travel to Baton Rouge to face LSU next Saturday.
Mississippi State (3-6 0-5) hosts Tennessee next week.