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Today in MSU History: A Battle for the Orange Bowl

11/30/1940- All-American Buddy Elrod and Harvey "Boots" Johnson led Mississippi State to an 13-0 defeat of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. With the win, the Maroons clinched a spot in the 1941 Orange Bowl.

In 1940, Buddy Elrod, a 2-time All-SEC lineman (1939 & 1940) and State’s first first-team All-American (1940) was ready for payback. A year earlier in Tuscaloosa, Elrod was charged with a penalty that cost Mississippi State the game as Alabama won 7-0, one of only two losses for the 1939 Maroons. Elrod recalled the matchup the year before:

That game was played on my birthday and it was the only game I ever got thrown out of. The Alabama tackle and I had been exchanging compliments all night, but on the penalty play I hadn’t done anything. I made a promise I would pay Alabama back in 1940.

Elrod would have his chance in the crucial finale to the 1940 season as the 8-0-1, 11th-ranked Mississippi State Maroons traveled to Tuscaloosa to play 7-1, 17th-ranked Alabama. State's blemish was a tie against Auburn on a late TD, while Alabama's loss came to SEC Champion Tennessee. Despite the loss, Alabama was one of only three teams to even SCORE POINTS against the 1940 Volunteers.

Undefeated Tennessee had essentially wrapped up the SEC and was selected to represent the conference in the Sugar Bowl. That left the Orange Bowl with an SEC pick, and it was said that the winner of State and Alabama would head to Miami.

The Maroons got on the board early, thanks to senior quarterback Harvey "Boots" Johnson. On State's 2nd possession, Johnson broke off down the left side of the field, directing defenders as he raced 47 yards to the Alabama 8 yardline. On the next play, Johnson scored easily through the right side and Wilbur Dees' extra point gave State an early 7-0 lead.

In the second quarter, Alabama took advantage of a bad punt and threatened by driving to State's 2 yardline. The Tide was stopped on downs by the Maroons' superior defensive line, who only allowed one rushing first down all year and held opposing backs to 1.2 yards per carry.

State held the 7-0 lead through the next two quarters, as both offenses struggled to move the ball.

In the fourth quarter, State's Charley Yancey intercepted a pass at Alabama's 45 yardline and ran 22 yards before being tackled. Yancey followed that by faking a handoff and racing 23 yards for the final touchdown, spinning and shaking would-be tacklers along the way. After Dees' missed extra point, State held a commanding 13-0 lead late in the fourth quarter.

Alabama’s final drive stalled at State's 5 yardline, with just over a minute to go.

The 13-0 win was Mississippi State’s seventh consecutive victory and clinched a berth in the Orange Bowl. State went on to defeat Georgetown 14-7 in Miami on New Year’s Day and finished the 1940 season undefeated and ranked 9th, our highest-ever end-of-year ranking.

As for the aforementioned Elrod, several papers hailed the All-American’s “great play” as he led the dominant Mississippi State line.

Amazingly, a fairly high-quality video of this game still remains. Watch it here.