November 10, 2007

Dogs thrown two bones

STARKVILLE, Miss. - It may be six weeks until Christmas, but John Parker Wilson is already in the giving spirit.

The Alabama quarterback gift-wrapped a pair of touchdowns for Mississippi State Saturday, and the result was a 17-12 loss at Scott Field. On the verge of taking complete control, Alabama held a 9-3 lead and had the ball inside the MSU 5 in the final minute of the first half. On third and goal, however, Wilson threw an interception to Anthony Johnson, who returned the play from one end zone to the other for a 10-9 MSU lead.

Whatever control Alabama had spent the first half building, Johnson took it 100 yards in the wrong direction. Wilson said he was conscious of avoiding a sack, which would have prevented Alabama from scoring before the half because it was out of timeouts. Immediately pressured, he threw the ball up and Johnson was in position. Without a wide receiver on the field for Alabama, which was in a three-tight end set, there was no chance of catching the cornerback from behind.

"Critical turnover right before the half," said UA coach Nick Saban. "At least a 10-point swing, maybe a 14-point swing. … The fact of the matter is we turned the ball over and gave them a touchdown, and gave them good field position another time."

The other time came just after the second-half kickoff. Wilson threw a pair of screen passes to open the third quarter, then was intercepted by Derek Pegues on downfield throw that was returned to the Alabama 25. Five plays player, Anthony Dixon penetrated the goal line for what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown.

"I'm not going to lose my confidence just because I throw a couple of interceptions," said Wilson. "We just couldn't get things going. I don't know what it was. We never got going, never got moving and it wasn't a good day. We weren't clicking today."

Wilson finished 16 of 34 for 121 yards and two interceptions. In his two career starts against the Bulldogs, both losses, Wilson is under 50 percent (35 of 73) with no touchdowns, four interceptions and just 308 yards.

Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom, now with two wins in a row against the school he played for, wasn't shy about validating the importance of the win.

"In three hours, we changed the way people look at this program across the nation," Croom said.

The bright spot for Alabama was kicker Leigh Tiffin, who was 4 for 4 on field goal tries, including his two longest of the season: a 51-yarder in the first half, and a 50-yarder in the fourth quarter. Defensively Alabama also played well, surrendering just 215 total yards and breaking Wesley Carroll's streak of 137 attempts without an interception. Rashad Johnson picked off Carroll on his first pass attempt, but later dropped two more potential interceptions.

"They seized the opportunities and we didn't," said Alabama's Wallace Gilberry. "It's as simple as that."

Dixon led all rushers with 84 yards on 26 carries, and did not fumble, which has plagued him at times this season.

"The good thing is he protected the football today," said Croom.

Something Alabama must re-focus on.

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