TUSCALOOSA _ If it looked like the University of Alabama defense played with a chip on its shoulder Saturday night, it's because the players took exception to some pre-game quotes from Mississippi State.
"We felt like they disrespected us in a way," sophomore linebacker Dont'a Hightower said. "That they thought they could play for us for three quarters and then have us die out in the fourth quarter, that's something we fought hard for this season to be a fourth-quarter team."
Actually, the game was essentially over by then, but Alabama felt it made its point. Sophomore safety Robert Lester made two interceptions for a league-high seven, junior safety Mark Barron's 11 tackles was only exceeded by freshman linebacker C.J. Mosley's 12 and the five sacks were more than twice as many as any game this season.
"We were just comfortable with our game plan," said Barron, who added that the unit's confidence grew as the game progressed.
Ironically, MSU scored its only touchdown in the fourth quarter after the outcome had already been decided.
"I just know that the fourth quarter is our quarter," junior defensive end Marcell Dareus said.
Starters and injuries
Sophomore right guard Barrett Jones sustained a sprained ankle in the second quarter and is considered "very questionable" for Thursday's game against Georgia State. He watched the end of the game from the sideline, with his foot in a protective boot and was using crutches.
Redshirt freshman Anthony Steen replaced him, but when the offense struggled coaches re-inserted redshirt freshman right D.J. Fluker at right tackle for the first time since he sustained a groin injury against South Carolina.
"I feel a lot better," Fluker said.
Sophomore running back Trent Richardson (knee) warmed up, but did not play. Junior linebacker Chris Jordan also didn't play.
Sophomore cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick didn't start due to disciplinary reasons, but entered the game midway through the second quarter. Junior Phelon Jones started, but when Kirkpatrick came in he was inserted on the kick-return unit at freshman DeMarcus Milliner's spot.
Junior running back Mark Ingram limped off the field in the second quarter but afterward said he was fine, that he got twisted up in a pile.
The special Nike Combat uniforms that Alabama wore included an American flag on the right sleeve, as honored Veteran's Day Weekend and 13 former players who served in the military during World War II.
"I want to thank my grandfather for serving 25 years in the Air Force," senior quarterback Greg McElroy said. "Veteran's Day is always an emotional time for me. I'm very patriotic and want to say thank you to those people."
A moment of silence for Mississippi State defensive end Nick Bell was also held prior to kickoff. The Bulldogs wore a No. 36 patch on their jerseys and after the game MSU coach Dan Mullen sought out Dareus, who was a good friend of Bell's from Birmingham.
"I just gave him a hug and told him good luck the rest of the way," Mullen said. "With the things that went on, I know he was very close to Nick Bell and when we got our team to the hospital on Monday, he was already there. He came over to the memorial service Thursday after practice. I just wanted to tell him after that to keep his head up and keep playing. That is what Nick would want him to do, play hard. He would want everyone that cared about him to play their best."
Said Dareus he and the Bulldogs playing the game in Bell's honor: "It meant lot."
McElroy surpassed the 5,000-yard mark for career total offense, becoming the sixth player in Alabama football history to break the barrier. McElroy has 5,010 total yards for his career, 4,935 passing and 75 rushing. He's fifth in career touchdown passes (34), fourth for season touchdown passes (15), and is on pace to smash the Alabama record for career completion percentage of 64.9 percent (Tyler Watts, 57.5, 1999-2002).
Alabama has more games against Mississippi State than any other opponent, 95, two more than Tennessee. The Tide is 73-18-3 in the series.
Representatives of the Cotton, Chick-fil-A, Florida Citrus and Outback bowls were at the game. ... Team captains were Mark Ingram, Dareus, Hightower and Preston Dial. ... Former Alabama players Rolando McClain and Le'Ron McClain were among those in attendance. ... Ken Williamson's crew officiated the game, Mike McGinnis was the replay official.