True, the College Football Playoff Selection Committee may squeeze Alabama into its top four this week. This week, however, doesn’t matter.
“We’re sort of in a playoff situation now,” Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban said Saturday evening. “Lose and you’re out.”
There shouldn’t be to much concern about a loss this week. Bama has homecoming, hosting Western Carolina at 3 p.m. CST Saturday. Alabama, which was fifth in last year’s CFP poll, third in the Coaches Poll, and fourth in the Associated Press rankings.
The Tide improved to 9-1 overall and 6-1 in Southeastern Conference games. Bama can win the SEC West with a win over Auburn in two weeks.
But for now, Saban wasn’t thinking ahead. He was tremendously pleased with the performance of his team, and particularly of the quarterback no one was talking about before the game. Mississippi State came with Heisman Trophy candidate Dak Prescott, and Prescott is very, very good. The Tide came with Blake Sims, who delivered a clutch drive for the second consecutive week.
Seven days after he had taken Bama on a last minute drive in Baton Rouge to tie LSU in regulation before the Tide won in overtime, Sims resurrected the Tide offense against the Bulldogs in Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday. The key to victory was obvious: Alabama was reeling a bit after State had pulled to within six points, 19-13, early in the fourth quarter.
Sims took Bama on a 15-play, 76-yard drive in which he picked up one third-and-long with a safety valve pass to T.J. Yeldon and two more with scramble runs. The drive ended with Yeldon going in on a seven-yard run with what would be the winning points.
“That was probably one of the greatest drives in Alabama history to go down there and make it a two score game in the fourth quarter,” Saban said. “Offensively, we struggled a little bit in the second half. We didn’t move the ball as well as I thought we should have. At the end of the third quarter, we were a little tired, which is a bit of an issue for us. When we needed to put a drive together on offense and answer the bell to score and make it a two-score game, we put a great drive together. We made some critical third-down conversions.
“Obviously, it was a great win for our team, our players, our fans, our university and everyone in the organization,” said the Tide coach. “I think anytime you beat the number one team in the country, that’s a significant accomplishment. I was really proud of how our players competed in the game. I thought the defense did a fantastic job. The turnovers were huge with the three interceptions (one each by Nick Perry, Cyrus Jones, and Landon Collins). They were all drive stoppers.”
Saban recognized Mississippi State as a tough opponent.
“This is a really good football team that we played today – they’re really hard to stop – and I think our defense did a fantastic job holding them to what we did,” he said. “We held them to 13 points with 15 seconds to go in the game, and we were trying to shrink the game in the end. It would have been great to stop them, but we did it well enough to where even if they did get the onside kick, they wouldn’t have had a whole lot of time to score.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am of how our players competed in the game. You have to give Mississippi State’s players a lot of credit they really came out in the second half and played outstanding football. They’re a great team.”
Saban made his point with a painful reminder in Alabama football history, harking back to the 2010 Alabama-Auburn game when the Tigers came from far back to beat Bama 28-27.
Saban said he knew that State, down 19-3 at halftime, would “come out in the second half and compete. “It was a little like the Auburn game, the Cam Newton game here. We got ahead 24-(7) or whatever it was, and they came back in the second half. That’s what good teams do, that’s why they’re number one. But our team has shown that they have an ability to do that. We made plays when we had to today, and I think that was a sign of great competitive character for our team as well.”
Asked to elaborate on the play of Sims, and particularly on the fourth quarter touchdown drive, Saban said, “He did a really good job of executing. We dropped a couple of balls that made it more difficult for us in the second half. On that drive…he did a good job of getting us in the right plays and really did a good job of executing.
“We have to do a better job of creating balance on offense and controlling the football against a team like this. We knew in the game we needed to control the football so they wouldn’t have the ball.
“They ran 88 plays, which is too many, in my opinion. The way that they don’t run 88 plays is we have to get a few more third-down stops and fourth-down stops – they converted three fourth downs.
“We also have to control the ball on offense and do a better job offensively on a more consistent basis.”
Saban was also asked about the running of Yeldon, who had suffered a sparined ankle in the previous week’s game at LSU. The coach said, “I think running is the key. When we can run the ball it makes a huge difference. The passing game makes a huge difference in explosive plays.
“We made a couple of explosive plays in the first half, probably didn’t make enough explosive plays in the second half, but we were able to run the ball when we had to. That’s a real key for us. For us to be able to improve on that and continue to be able to do that is going to be a real key for us in the future in terms of being able to be successful against some of the really good teams that we are going to have to play.
“I thought T.J. played well in the game. Probably wasn’t as explosive as normal, but the guy is a true warrior. There was no way you were going to keep him out of the game. He wanted to play. Hopefully we’ll be able to get him healed up and he’ll be better here down the stretch. We’ll get him a couple of days off to try to get him healed up.”