By MATTHEW STEVENS
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – It is clear Mississippi State’s defense came in wondering if Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy could beat them.
Wonder no longer.
The senior quarterback, who months ago said his toughest week of preparation last year came before the game against State, made carving up the MSU defense look easy in Alabama’s 30-10 victory over the 17th-ranked Bulldogs Saturday night.
"I think the offensive game plan was fantastic tonight. We had a great week of study and we just went out there and executed the way coach Saban demands," McElroy said.
With Mississippi State’s defense pressing up to stop last year’s Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram at the line of scrimmage, McElroy simply flicked his wrist twice and suddenly the 11th-ranked Crimson Tide had the sellout crowd on its feet the rest of the evening.
“We did not follow the recipe for success tonight, which was protect the football (and) make the plays when we need to make them and we were sloppy,” Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen said.
The senior, who has a touchdown pass in every game he’s played this season, finished the night completing 12-of-18 for 227 yards and two touchdowns in just over three quarters of work.
The first big pass play came on a flag route toward the near sidelines to junior wide receiver Marquis Maze and after the speedster broke a pair of MSU tackles, he found a clear path to the end zone for a 45-yard touchdown strike.
Maze tried to make it back-to-back touchdowns when he found a seam on a punt return for a 80-yard return to the end zone but a holding penalty brought the ball back deep into Alabama territory. On the next play, State forgot to account for Ingram out wide as the Tide (8-2, 5-2 in Southeastern Conference) threw a screen toward the same sideline and he used some fancy footwork to avoid MSU defensive backs before ripping off 78 yards for the game’s second touchdown. The pass from McElroy to Ingram was his longest career scoring play for the 5-foot-10, 215-pound tailback in his much-acclaimed career on the Tuscaloosa campus.
"We got some guys that can make explosive plays and we want to put the ball in their hands so they the opportunity to do it," Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. "Getting ahead of these guys is important as well, so those big plays helped us do that."
Ingram now has his longest career reception and rushing play (the 70-yard scoring scamper last year at Davis-Wade Stadium) against Mississippi State.
As both teams entered the locker room for halftime, Alabama had out-gained State by 106 yards in nine less plays thanks to the big plays coming from the right arm of McElroy.
“I really think our gameplan was stopping the run but McElroy did a real good job in passing yardage and do a better job in our coverage to stop them from doing stuff like that,” MSU senior linebacker K.J. Wright said.
The 30 points that Alabama put on the scoreboard were the most given up by a Mississippi State defense during the 2010 season.
“It’s going to make our guys sick to watch the film,” MSU defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “We ruined a lot of really good downs with three horrendous ones.”
The Crimson Tide were without its leading rusher in sophomore Trent Richardson due to a knee injury suffered last week at LSU forcing Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain to showcase a lot of no-huddle and empty-set formations to speed up the tempo of the contest.
Alabama didn’t waste any time early in the second half to give themselves a cushion as a wide receiver sweep to All-American Julio Jones went for 56 yards and more importantly made it 27-3 on the scoreboard in favor of the home team.
State’s offense, which hasn’t won a game in the 2010 season when they’ve been behind at any point, was then forced to deal with the onslaught of a pass rush sent by Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart.
MSU junior quarterback Chris Relf, who said all week in practice he’d need to make some plays in the passing game, failed to get the aerial attack going as the Montgomery native ended with just 70 yards in that department.
“Overall I thought Chris did a decent job,” Mullen said. “Did some decent things – missed a throw here and there that we should’ve had. The first interception – bad interception…when you’re in this type of environment you can’t give away momentum like that.”
The only touchdown of the night for the Bulldogs came in garbage time late in the fourth quarter when backup quarterback Tyler Russell found sophomore receiver Chad Bumphis in between two defensive backs for a 27-yard score.
The loss Saturday night means Mississippi State (7-3, 3-3) has been outscored 93-13 in the last three meetings with Alabama. The margin of defeat was the most for State in a road game since the 45-0 loss at Ole Miss in the 2008 Egg Bowl matchup.
“When you come into these environments, these are the places you have to learn how to win at if you’re going to be a championship football program,” Mullen said.
This marked the first contest for State since the tragic passing of sophomore defensive end Nick Bell. Mississippi State players wore a patch on its white jersey Saturday to honor their fallen teammate and the University of Alabama observed a moment of silence for Bell before the opening kickoff.
Mississippi State will try to recover from its first loss since Sept. 18 when they return home for a Senior Night contest Saturday against Arkansas.