Ever since Alabama hired Mike Shula instead of Sylvester Croom and Mississippi State hired Croom, the media and fans on both sides pointed toward their inevitable clash on the football field.
Throughout the week leading up to the game, Shula and Croom, both former Crimson Tide players, became the focus of attention for fans and media.
On the day of the game, though, it was the players who ultimately decided the outcome of Alabama's 30-14 victory over Mississippi State.
The Crimson Tide (6-3, 3-3 SEC) lost three turnovers, committed eight penalties, lost several players to temporary injuries during the game, but Shula's team still outplayed Croom's team on the way to becoming bowl eligible. Alabama has not been to a bowl since 2001 because of NCAA sanctions for rules violations committed under former coach Mike DuBose.
"Hopefully what's written about tomorrow ... will be the way our guys fought through some injuries and fought through some mistakes," Shula said. "I think 6-3 shows a little more for our work than 5-3 did."
Alabama won in typical fashion for this season's team. The nation's top-ranked defense held Mississippi State to 240 total yards and held the Bulldogs scoreless over the final 25 minutes of the game. The SEC's top-ranked rushing team also rushed for 260 yards, with 200 rushing yards and a touchdown from Kenneth Darby.
What's more, the Tide broke out of its typical offensive box. Quarterback Spencer Pennington still didn't remind Tide fans of Joe Namath, let alone injured starter Brodie Croyle, and he did throw two interceptions, but he also completed 9 of 15 passes for a career-high 119 yards and one touchdown.
Shula also lined up receiver Tyrone Prothro at quarterback for a play and Prothro took off running, following the blocks of Le'Ron McClain, Danny Martz and Matt Caddell on his way to a 21-yard touchdown and a 10-7 Alabama lead.
"It worked better than it ever did in practice," Shula said.
It would easy to give Shula credit for the play, but once again Alabama proved to be greater than the sum of its parts, limited by injuries and NCAA-imposed scholarship reductions.
"I'm happy for these guys," Shula said. "What it means for me personally is we're taking steps in the right direction."
The next direction for Alabama is a road game at LSU, followed by a home game against Auburn and a likely bowl trip, most likely to the Peach Bowl.
"Now we're playing for heat," said tackle Wesley Britt, one of the Tide players who played through injuries. "Win more games to go further south."
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