TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Georgia Southern ran wild against major college football's top defense, racking up more points against No. 3 Alabama than anybody else has this season.
The Eagles' triple option attack confounded the Crimson Tide with 302 rushing yards, but they still fell 45-21 Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The six-time FCS champions aren't into consolation prizes.
"They say statistics are for losers," Georgia Southern coach Jeff Monken said. "We can look at those things and think of it as a moral victory. Bottom line is, though, we didn't win the football game. Our kids played as hard as they could. They played with so much effort, and I'm proud of our guys for running the ball like that."
The Eagles (9-2) didn't back down from a team vying for the FBS title. Neither did Dominique Swopes, who rushed for an 82-yard touchdown and gained 153 yards on 18 carries.
Trent Richardson rushed for 175 yards and scored three touchdowns to power Alabama (10-1) to the win. No. 2 Oklahoma State's 37-31 loss to Iowa State in two overtimes on Friday night prompted coach Nick Saban to give the Crimson Tide a pregame message: "Nothing's changed."
"I told our players before any of this ever happened that a legacy of the seniors that have won 45 games here and won a national championship would completely get defined if we didn't get everybody's best effort in this game," Saban said. "What happened, happened. I told everybody this morning that hasn't changed. Nothing has changed.
"We have two games to play. We're asking everybody, 'Do you know what your best is? We need your best for the rest of this season and then this game.'"
The Tide wasn't at its dominating best against Georgia Southern and the well-executed triple option attack that bears little similarity to what Alabama is accustomed to facing.
Yet Richardson, a Heisman Trophy candidate, kept piling up the stats in a game that never offered him much of a breather. He ran 32 times, caught a 4-yard touchdown pass and broke Shaun Alexander's school single-season mark of 19 rushing touchdowns.
"It means a lot," Richardson said. "I didn't even know I did, but they told me I did. I talk to Shaun all the time. He's like a big brother to me."
Mark Ingram, the Tide's 2009 Heisman winner, was on hand thanks to the New Orleans Saints having their bye this weekend.
Richardson was still running well into the fourth quarter in a game that was expected to be a low-stress tuneup for the Iron Bowl at Auburn.
That triple option of Georgia Southern, meanwhile, burned the nation's top defense.
"They put forth a tremendous effort against maybe the best football team in America," Monken said. "Our kids fought them tooth and nail all the way through."
The Tide seniors set a school four-year mark for wins with No. 46. They're hoping to compete for a second national title, a bid that keeps gaining momentum with losses by previous unbeatens Oklahoma State, Stanford and Boise State.
"You're excited to see things like that of course because at Alabama we play for championships, that's what we do," defensive end Damion Square said. "So you're excited to see things like that, but right after that, you've got to realize we've got a game to play like today."
AJ McCarron completed 14 of 19 passes for 190 yards and three touchdowns for Alabama. He threw his second touchdown to tight end Brad Smelley with 44 seconds left after Georgia Southern used up its final two timeouts.
The Tide also scored when Dont'a Hightower blocked a field goal after Georgia Southern's opening drive. Dre Kirkpatrick scooped up the ball and raced 55 yards for a touchdown. It was the first time Alabama had scored on a blocked field goal since 2003.
Georgia Southern had plenty of highlights, too, especially for an FCS team facing one of major college football's dominant programs. The previous scoring high against the Tide was 14 points by Arkansas, and Georgia Southern had that by halftime.
Swope is only the 10th back to rush for 100 yards against Alabama since 2005 and first since Tennessee's Tauren Poole last season.
Laron Scott scored on a 95-yard kick return in the third quarter after Alabama appeared to take control with McCarron's 34-yard, third-down touchdown pass to Smelley to make it 31-14.
"This is Alabama. Roll Tide, but we're just out there slugging," Scott said. "We're going to keep on fighting."
Alabama noseguard Josh Chapman sat out the game to rest a nagging knee injury, while defensive end Nick Gentry and receiver DeAndrew White were suspended for violating team rules. Receiver Darius Hanks and left tackle Barrett Jones also were out with injuries.
Defensive end Jesse Williams saw action in Chapman's spot after suffering food poisoning on the eve of the game.
None of that offered much preparation for a wishbone-like attack that came in averaging 320 yards rushing a game — and nearly matched that.
Georgia Southern quarterback Jaybo Shaw only completed one of his five passes, but it was good for a 39-yard touchdown to Johnathan Bryant.
"We knew we were going to get them on play action one time in the game," Shaw said.
The Eagles also drove inside Alabama's 10 in the fourth quarter, but Shaw's fourth-down pass fell incomplete in the end zone. They finished the game in Tide territory, too.
Saban said his players didn't overlook Georgia Southern.
"That was a good win for us," he said. "That was a good little team we played out there today.
"Those guys played hard. They played with a lot of toughness. It's a tough offense to get prepared for, and it's totally different than what we do all the time."
- Georgia Southern