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Red Zone ‘D’ keys Tide win

When the going got tough in the Red Zone, top-ranked Alabama’s defense got going, particularly in the first 55:21 of its 38-7 win over No. 11 Mississippi State.

The Bulldogs scored against Bama’s backups with 4:39 remaining, earning freshman Geno Smith an old-fashioned Nick Saban butt-chewing, but when the game was on the line, the previously-unbeaten visitors from Starkville struggled mightily.

“These guys on our defense have set up with an attitude since the season started that they want to prove something,” Saban said. “I’ve been pleased with the progress they’ve made. We’ve got some good role players on our defense.”

“Each game that goes on, we try to prove our point that we have a great defense,” said linebacker C.J. Mosley, who had seven stops. “As a defense, we try out best to create plays that set up our offense and our special teams to score.

“(Mississippi State) came in here with a chip on their shoulders. As a defense, we did a great job of stopping the run and creating turnovers.”

Perhaps the best example of that came when Alabama safety Robert Lester picked off Tyler Russell in the end zone to thwart a State drive that had covered 97 yards and eaten up 8:23 of the third quarter.  “It’s always a big play when you can keep your opponent out of the end zone,” said Lester, “especially when you can get a turnover doing it. It’s very important to be more aggressive in the Red Zone (inside the 20-yard line). Any big play like that is a big motivator. Whenever they start putting the air, you’ve got a chance to make big plays.

“It all goes to execution. I thought we did a great job of that. I think game by game, we’re steadily improving (as a defense).”

Though he struggled at times in coverage, and had a penalty on special teams that drew Saban’s ire, Dee Milliner had a big play of his own early in the contest. He blocked a field goal after the Bulldogs had driven 41 yards to the Tide 14, with Bama only up 7-0 at the time.

“It’s something we worked on all week,” Milliner said of the scheme used on his block. “I got a good ‘get-off’ and it hit my left hand. My hand felt kind of numb for a while, because it was so cold.” While game-time temperature was listed at 54 degrees, a stiff wind made it feel much colder.  However, when State got in the Bama Red Zone, the Tide defense seemed to warm to the occasion.  “We did a great job when they got to the Red Zone,” Milliner said. “We take pride on not giving up

points in the Red Zone. We’ve got a goal to get a shut-out every week. We can do it if we put our minds to it. We’ve just got to execute our keys.”

Alabama out-gained the Bulldogs (7-1, 3-1 SEC) offensively, 414 yards to 256. A big reason: another big week for quarterback AJ McCarron, who finished 16-for-23 passing for 208 yards and two touchdowns. Again, he did not throw an interception, though a potential pick slipped through a Bulldog defender’s hands in the first half. He threw touchdowns of 57 yards to Kenny Bell and nine yards to tight end Michael Williams.

“AJ is our leader, and we follow our leader,” said Williams. “We came out early throwing the ball. A lot of teams like to pack it in on us. Then, we start running the ball, and we start rolling.

McCarron left the game early in the fourth quarter with a back contusion. “He could have gone back in the game,” Saban said. “He should be fine next week (at LSU).”

“We try to have (run/pass) balance every game. We’re always confident in our running game.”  Williams led the Tide in receiving with five catches for 38 yards. That balance he spoke of depends on several variables.

“We’re taking what the defense gives us, and AJ (McCarron) is doing what he has to do, every game,” said sophomore wide receiver Christion Jones. “We’re not going to do too much ‘outside the box.’ We’re just going to keep playing ‘Bama Ball.’”

So far, “Bama Ball” has resulted in an 8-0, 5-0 record. Next up is a trip to Baton Rouge to take on one-loss LSU, a team that enjoyed a bye week. It’s a game that will decide the SEC West.

Said Williams: “It’s a very big game coming up. We’ll enjoy this one for 24 hours, but we don’t have any choice but to think about it.”

 

Kick-off in Baton Rouge has been set by CBS for 7:00 p.m. CT.

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