TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Trent Richardson rushed for 175 yards and scored three touchdowns to power No. 3 Alabama to a 45-21 victory over Georgia Southern on Saturday.
The Crimson Tide (10-1) didn't win many style points in giving up a season-high 21 points, but the team's biggest national title boost came the previous night when No. 2 Oklahoma State fell 37-31 to Iowa State in two overtimes.
Alabama needed Richardson more than expected against the FCS Eagles (9-2). The Heisman Trophy candidate ran 32 times, caught a 4-yard touchdown pass and broke Shaun Alexander's school single-season mark of 19 rushing touchdowns.
He 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.
Georgia Southern's triple option attack burned the nation's top defense for 302 rushing yards.
The Tide seniors set a school four-year mark for wins with No. 46, even if it was a little harder than expected. 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.
This one was about avoiding an embarrassingly close score more than making any statements.
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.
Dominique Swope torched the Tide for an 82-yard touchdown and finished with 153 yards on 18 carries. 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.
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.
The Tide defense and special teams gave up uncharacteristically huge plays against the six-time FCS national champions. Alabama had allowed 29 points in its last five games, all against Southeastern Conference teams and including No. 1 LSU.
None of that offered much preparation for a wishbone-like attack that came in averaging 320 rushing yards 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.
The Eagles also drove inside Alabama's 10 in the fourth quarter but Shaw's fourth-down pass fell incomplete in the end zone.