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November 19, 2013

No. 1 Alabama unhappy with play, even in win

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama left its latest performance not wanting to feel like that again, especially on offense.

The turnovers, the sluggish start and the generally generic performance left a sour taste.

Sure, the top-ranked Crimson Tide beat Mississippi State 20-7 on Saturday night but the team didn't look good doing it or feel particularly happy afterward.

''Nobody left that locker room at Mississippi State feeling great about the win,'' center Ryan Kelly said on Monday. ''We like the win because it's obviously a win, but we didn't like the way we did it. We left that field knowing that we didn't impose our will on them. We didn't feel like we dominated the line of scrimmage and that's one of the things we always work for every week, is to dominate the line of scrimmage and move the ball really well in the running game. And I don't think we did that very well.''

The silver lining from that performance is it provided the Tide (10-0) with more experience playing in a close game after a string of more lopsided games, including a 38-17 win over No. 18 LSU though it was close much of the way. That experience under pressure almost certainly won't matter Saturday against FCS Chattanooga, but it could against No. 6 Auburn in two weeks for the SEC West title.

Tailbacks Kenyan Drake and T.J. Yeldon both lost fumbles against the Bulldogs. AJ McCarron not only had his string of consecutive passes without an interception end, but also threw a second pick.

The defense made sure those mistakes didn't prove too costly, but it left Kelly & Co. with a sour taste.

''I think this is good for the team, at least on the offensive part,'' the center said. ''We don't want to have that feeling ever again. From this moment on, we've got to just do what we've got to do on offense.''

It's not as if those issues are chronic problems for Alabama, which has averaged just 1.06 turnovers per game over the past five-plus seasons. The next-best nationally during that span is Ohio State (1.22 turnovers per game).

The Tide defense played a more typical game.

Alabama forced a three-and-out and made two fourth-down stops after turnovers. A Yeldon fumble just across midfield set up Mississippi State's only touchdown, though, before the Tide scored the final 10 points.

Coach Nick Saban said Alabama's tough circumstances were largely self-induced, but having been through them might help down the line. The Tide had won its previous seven games by an average of 34 points.

''I'd rather not have a close game, but at some point in time in the near future we're going to have some close games,'' Saban said. ''We're going to play against some good teams. Hopefully the experience of what happened and the importance of keeping your poise and being able to stay focused on what you need to do to be successful on that play, are all lessons that are going to be helpful down the road.''

Learning those lessons in a 13-point victory is a fairly painless way to do it.

Tide fans aren't the only ones who have grown accustomed to having their team be more dominant.

''We expect the same thing,'' safety Landon Collins said. ''It's not even about what everybody else is expecting. We expect to go out and play our best game, be on our `A' game all the time and dominate everybody we face.''


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