By David Brandt
STARKVILLE, Miss. —
T.J. Yeldon rushed for 160 yards, A.J. McCarron threw two touchdown passes and No. 1 Alabama overcame four turnovers to beat Mississippi State 20-7 on Saturday night.
It was a lethargic performance for Alabama (10-0, 7-0 Southeastern Conference), which led 10-7 midway through the third quarter before pulling away. Alabama has won six straight against the Bulldogs.
Mississippi State (4-6, 1-5) kept the game far closer than most anticipated, but couldn’t take advantage of Alabama’s mistakes. Tyler Russell started for the injured Dak Prescott and completed 15 of 24 passes for 144 yards and an interception before leaving with an apparent shoulder injury when the Bulldogs were trying to rally in the fourth quarter.
McCarron tossed two rare interceptions and Yeldon had a costly fumble that led to Mississippi State’s only touchdown, but Alabama survived to set up a much-anticipated Iron Bowl with Auburn.
Mississippi State had two chances to get back into the game in the fourth quarter after McCarron’s second interception and a fumble by Kenyan Drake gave the Bulldogs field position in Alabama territory.
But without Russell, Mississippi State’s offense went nowhere. Freshman Damian Williams didn’t connect on any of his five pass attempts.
McCarron completed 18 of 32 passes. His first interception in the second quarter was his first in 139 pass attempts. It was the third 100-plus streak without an interception during his career.
The Tide has seemed invincible over the past two months, winning seven straight games by at least three touchdowns. But that aura wasn’t anywhere to be found at Davis Wade Stadium, with coach Nick Saban’s bunch looking curiously mortal.
Alabama parlayed a methodical 14-play, 59-yard opening drive into Cade Foster’s 33-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.
But the next four drives were brutal for the Crimson Tide’s offense, which managed just two first downs during that span. Mississippi State tried to take advantage with a long drive midway through the second quarter, but it bogged down on the 7 and Evan Sobiesk missed a 24-yard field goal that could have tied the game.
A few minutes later, the Tide finally broke through with Yeldon’s 50-yard run down the sideline to Mississippi State’s 28. McCarron hit Brian Vogler five plays later for an 18-yard touchdown pass with 20 seconds remaining in the second quarter to give Alabama a 10-0 halftime lead.
The 6-foot-7, 260-pound Vogler made a nifty move at the goal line, catching the pass and sidestepping a Mississippi State defender before diving into the end zone. It was his first career touchdown.
It looked like that would be all the breathing room Alabama needed, but the mistakes continued in the second half. Yeldon fumbled after a 10-yard run and Mississippi State’s Beniquez Brown recovered at Alabama’s 48.
The Bulldogs then drove downfield and scored thanks to Russell’s timely passes and a stroke of luck. Russell fumbled just short of a touchdown, but right tackle Charles Siddoway fell on the ball in the end zone to pull Mississippi State within 10-7.
McCarron’s 11-yard pass to Kevin Norwood pushed the Tide ahead 17-7 with 5:46 left in the third quarter.
Russell started at quarterback for Prescott, who left last week’s Texas A&M loss with a left arm injury late in the game. Russell is an accomplished passer — he ranks fifth in school history with more than 5,000 passing yards — but lacks Prescott’s running ability.