Okay, so maybe I was a tad too dismissive of Mississippi State's chances of pulling off the upset against Alabama. In fact, the Bulldogs were often in the game late against the Tide. But they just couldn't get out of their own way, despite four Alabama turnovers and two very good chances to change the outcome.
The game was, to an extent, lost in the fourth quarter. A.J. McCarron, having one of his worst games of the season -- 18-of-32 for 187 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions -- threw an interception about a third of a way through the quarter that the Bulldogs returned to the Tide's 38-yard line. But the Bulldogs couldn't capitalize and turned the ball over on downs. On the next play, Alabama fumbled it right back to Mississippi State at the Bama 24; once again, MSU couldn't do anything with it. The 20-7 lead held.
The Tide defense did its part, holding Mississippi State to 197 total yards and an average of just 1.8 yards per rush. And, of course, they helped to keep the Bulldogs out of the end zone on those two late drives. Otherwise, it was not a particularly pretty or impressive game for Alabama.
Then again, it didn't really have to be. The win was the thing for Alabama this week. Now, barring an epic collapse against Chattanooga, only Auburn stands between the Tide and a game at the Georgia Dome with a chance for the national title on the line. They won't get through the Tigers or the SEC East winners playing like they played Saturday night, but they likely won't have to.
For Mississippi State, meanwhile, the stakes of the next two games are clear. Anything less than a sweep of the last two game -- a visit to Arkansas and the Egg Bowl in Starkville -- will mean a losing season and tough questions about whether Dan Mullen should remain with the program. Rejecting similar generosity from the Hogs and the Rebels could very well seal his fate.