STARKVILLE, Miss.—Alabama coach Nick Saban summed up the No. 1 Crimson Tide’s 20-7 win over Mississippi State quite succinctly.
“We won the game,” he said. “But we didn’t really beat the other team.”
It was a sluggish night for Alabama, but it was to be expected. The Crimson Tide were coming off of an emotional win against LSU, and an epic showdown in the Iron Bowl is just two weeks away.
The last two times Alabama has played in Starkville—both national championship seasons—Alabama won just 31-3 and 24-7. It was just another chapter in the letdown games in Starkville.
But this could be a good thing for Saban and the Tide.
Alabama has essentially a bye week next week when it hosts Chattanooga. But then, Alabama will head to Auburn, where the Top 10 (and maybe Top Five after their heart-stopping win over Georgia) Tigers await with everything on the line—the SEC West, an undefeated season and the annual bragging rights that come with that game.
Saturday’s game could serve as a wake-up call.
“It was good for us to struggle and still get a win,” quarterback AJ McCarron said. “That always helps your team to bounce back from that. It kind of reminds you you’re not as good as you think.”
The main problems came on the offensive side of the ball.
McCarron threw two interceptions. The first one was a questionable call on the sidelines that wasn’t reviewed. But the second one was a killer, off his back foot and into coverage.
But the worst errors came in the form of lost fumbles, one by T.J. Yeldon and one by Kenyan Drake. Yeldon and Drake now have four fumbles and three lost each on the season.
Drake and Yeldon have proved to be a formidable duo running the football, but the fumbles have been a recurring issue and one that reared its ugly head again Saturday.
“We did some horrible things on offense, things we can get better at it,” wide receiver Kevin Norwood said. “It’s definitely embarrassing, but it’s still a learning process. It’s just something we’ve got to get better at.”
The turnovers and general sluggishness on offense (the Crimson Tide managed just 383 yards on the night) will no doubt be points of emphasis over the next two weeks.
A coach always wants his team to play at the highest level every time out, but that just isn’t realistic, especially when you’re trying to play at the level Alabama wants to in today’s college football world. Luckily for Alabama, its off games have come against Colorado State and SEC cellar-dweller Mississippi State.
But this could be a good thing for Alabama in the long term.
Like McCarron said, it brought the team back to earth after an otherworldly dominant stretch in the middle of its season. And whatever pressure McCarron may have been feeling to win the Heisman is probably gone now.
Saban will have plenty to pick at and point to this week in practice after his team’s sluggish game on Saturday. And that’s just the way he likes it.
“I’d much rather have a team that wants to see how far they can go,” Saban said. “That takes a lot of discipline, takes a lot of character. And you have to have those things if you want to separate from other teams. And that’s something we have to prove we can do.”