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November 5, 2005

Ugly, but still unbeaten

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- With Brodie Croyle struggling to move the football, Alabama's defense and special teams came to the rescue.

Matt Miller and Rudy Griffin scored touchdowns off third-quarter turnovers for the fourth-ranked Crimson Tide, who posted a 17-0 victory over Mississippi State in a Southeastern Conference matchup.

Alabama (9-0, 6-0 SEC West) kept its record unblemished by limiting Mississippi State to 103 yards and eight first downs in its fifth consecutive win in the series.

With Alabama leading 3-0 to start the second half, Mississippi State's Derek Pegues fumbled the opening kickoff, which Miller picked up and ran 15 yards to the end zone.

On Mississippi State's next possession, Griffin, a defensive tackle, intercepted Bulldogs quarterback Mike Henig and scored from 17 yards out to widen Alabama's margin.

From there, the Crimson Tide continued to keep the Bulldogs off the scoreboard to record their first 9-0 start since 1994. Alabama has yielded just 19 points in five games and has allowed an average of just 8.2 this season.

"The defense had to show up because of the lack of offense," Croyle said. "I am looking forward to next week to try and score some points."

Croyle, who completed 14-of-22 passes for 116 yards, threw an interception to free safety Jeramie Johnson on Alabama's first possession and lost a fumble that was recovered by defensive end Titus Brown late in the first quarter.

"We came in with the mentality to play physical," Brown said. "We wanted to out-tough them and beat them with speed and quickness. I thought we were able to show tonight that we can do that."

"(Croyle) was down about the way our offense played," Alabama coach Mike Shula said. "We have not been playing up to our potential offensively and Brodie knows that. He'll get better, though. We have some things to fix."

After Jamie Christensen booted a 38-yard field goal in the second quarter, Croyle was stopped for no gain on 4th-and-1 at the Bulldogs 12 with 26 seconds left in the half.

"Our past two games, we have not played exceptionally well on offense," Shula said. "When we have a first down and get seven or eight yards and we can not convert on 3rd-and-1, there is something wrong."

Kenneth Darby rushed for 124 yards on 21 carries for Alabama, which faces sixth-ranked Louisiana State next Saturday before closing the regular season against arch-rival Auburn on November 19.

"If I had asked our players at the beginning of the season if they would be happy being 9-0 going into the LSU (game) and playing them at home, they would have said yes," Shula said. "But we have a lot of work to do this week. If we play the way we played tonight against a team like LSU, we will lose."

Henig went 9-of-28 for 78 yards and two interceptions for the Bulldogs (2-7, 0-6 West), who have lost nine straight against SEC opponents and 18 in a row against division foes.

"Alabama has a great defense," Henig said. "They did everything we expected them to do on defense. They were fast and made the plays they needed to."

Jerious Norwood, the Bulldogs' all-time leading rusher, was held to just 39 yards on 18 carries.

Alabama will now attempt to navigate a two-game stretch against LSU and Auburn without starting center JB Closner, who went down with a broken left leg late in the fourth quarter.



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