By (Kelly Ward)

STARKVILLE, Miss. — For nearly 20 minutes, No. 2 Alabama couldn’t find the end zone. On offense, it couldn’t find much of anything after a 34-yard first quarter.

Then cornerback Cyrus Jones broke loose on a punt return in the second quarter, taking it 69 yards to the end zone to give Alabama the lead in its 31-6 win over No. 17 Mississippi State.

“It was great,” Jones said. “I’ve been itching for one the whole year. It just feels good to get one in a big time game and just provide a spark for my team.”

On Alabama’s next two offensive possessions, it scored. Both were at least 60 yards. Of Alabama’s four touchdowns, none were less than 60 yards.

The Crimson Tide had the ball for under nine minutes in the first half but controlled the pace of the second half, keeping possession for nearly 18 minutes, including 10 minutes in the fourth quarter.

“I thought we were a little flat going into the game which is certainly my responsibility,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “I didn’t do a good enough job of getting these guys to respond during the week. What I tried to say to them was: ‘look guys, you don’t get a gold medal for winning one game. You don’t get a gold medal for beating somebody. You get a gold medal when you beat everybody. You’ve got to play to a high level all the time.’ I also told them, ‘ You guys all think you beat LSU last week. But if we don’t beat Mississippi State, they beat us because they’ll probably win the division. Every game matters, they’re all important. But I do have a lot respect for this team’s resiliency and ability to work through problems. That was probably the difference in the game today.”

A 60-yard pass from Jake Coker to Calvin Ridley, which featured Ridley putting defenders on skates and Kenyan Drake clearing his way to the end zone with a pancake block, gave Alabama a two-score lead in the second quarter.

Drake left the game after fracturing a bone in his arm on kickoff coverage. Saban said he would be back in 2-3 weeks.

Following a Mississippi State field goal, Derrick Henry found the end zone on a 74-yard run with five minutes left in the first half. He now has 15 consecutive games with a rushing touchdown. 

He has the longest active streak in the country and the longest by an SEC player, breaking the tie he had with Tim Tebow for 14 games (2006-07).

Henry finished the day with 204 yards on 22 carries and two touchdowns, including a 65-yard run in the fourth quarter to put the game away.

Alabama finished the game with 379 total yards.

The Crimson Tide defense sacked Dak Prescott nine times. Going into the game he had only been sacked 13 times on the year and the most in one game was three times (twice) against LSU and Missouri.

“I don’t know if they were doing anything special but just beating guys up there,” Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen said.

Junior defensive lineman Jonathan Allen led the way for Alabama with three sacks and a forced fumble. 

“Everything we do on defense is competitive,” Allen said of the defense piling on sacks. “When we’re eating, we try to eat fast.”

A’Shawn Robinson recorded 2.5 sacks, Ryan Anderson notched two and Tim WIlliams put up 1.5 on the day.

On the season, Alabama has 38 sacks, the most of any defense since Saban came to Alabama.

Mississippi State was 2-for-3 on red zone scores. Both scores were field goals. The Bulldogs went for it on 4th-and-goal from the 1-yard line, but Alabama’s defense stopped Prescott short of the goal line.

State out-gained Alabama, putting up 393 total yards to the Crimson Tide’s 379. The Bulldogs held onto the ball for seven more minutes than Alabama and ran 32 more plays. 

Alabama (9-1, 6-1 SEC) hosts Charleston Southern (9-1) on Saturday at 3 p.m. CT on the SEC Network.

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Source:: The Crimson White Sports