To be sure, Alabama will take being best in that one key statistic: points. That was really all that mattered against Mississippi State, which came into the game undefeated and ranked first in the nation. As Bama Coach Nick Saban pointed out, the Bulldogs were number one because it is a good football team.
Statistics notwithstanding, Alabama was the best team in Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday, the first of three home games to close out the 2014 regular season. Bama, 9-1 overall and 6-1 in Southeastern Conference games, will host Western Carolina for homecoming at 3 p.m. CST Saturday. The final game in Tuscaloosa will be Nov. 29 against Auburn, and if the Crimson Tide wins that game it will win the SEC Western Division championship.
Alabama didn’t have the most first downs or the most yards rushing or the most yards passing (and obviously not the most yards of total offense). That was primarily because MSU ran 88 plays, 25 more than the 63 run by Bama. And the easy answer to that is the Bulldogs must have been better on offense and defense to accomplish that.
Without sounding whiney, another factor was Alabama having a 25-13 lead over the Bulldogs when State got the ball back at its 28 with only 3:18 to play. Bama played soft, allowing the Bulldogs to make plays in front of defenders, and pick up 72 meaningless yards on 13 meaningless plays while devouring 3:03 very meaningful minutes and seconds that assured the Alabama victory.
There were meaningful numbers that aren’t at the top of the statistics sheet. Mississippi State suffered three turnovers (interceptions by Nick Perry, Cyrus Jones, and Landon Collins), while the Tide had none. And Mississippi State’s starting field position was its 21, Bama’s its 32. That may not seem like much, but 11 yards over 27 possessions is a factor.
Give Alabama punter J.K. Scott much of the credit for the Alabama win. Scott punted 7 times for a 45.6 yards per punt average with two punts over 50 yards and five inside the 20, two of those five inside the 10. Two State punters had 5 kicks for a 34.4 average, none inside the Bama 20.
State did have the advantage in traditional statistics – 26 first downs to 17 for Bama, 40 rushes for 138 yards compared to 32-124 for the Tide, 290 yards passing to 211 for Alabama, and 428 yards of total offense to 335 for UA.
Alabama’s 63 plays of offense averaged 5.3 yards per play, while State’s 88 plays averaged 4.9.
On third down opportunities, Bama was 5-14 and State 5-15, but the Bulldogs were also good on all three of their fourth down gambles. Alabama scored 4-5 trips (3-3 touchdowns, 1-2 field goals) in the Red Zone and the Dogs were 4-6 (2 TDs, 2-2 FGs).
Neither team fumbled.
Bama was penalized 7 times for 61 yards, the Bulldogs only 4 times for 33 yards.
That last meaningless State drive gave the Dogs an advantage in time of possession, 31:55 to 28:05.
T.J. Yeldon led the Tide in rushing with 16 carries for 72 yards, while Derrick Henry was 11-36 and Blake Sims 7-18. Sims completed 19-31 passes for 211 yards and one touchdowns. For State, quarterback Dak Prescott rushed 22 times for 82 yards and completed 27 of 48 passes for 290 yards and two touchdowns, but he was intercepted three times. MSU tailback Josh Robinson had 12 runs for 37 yards.
Defensively, Alabama was led by Nick Perry, who had 9 primary stops and 3 assists and was in on a tackle for loss and had an interception. Reggie Ragland was in on 10 tackles, Trey DePriest 9 (including a tackle for loss), Jarran Reed 8 (including TFL), and 7 each for Landon Collins, Eddie Jackson, Dalvin Tomlinson, and A'Shawn Robinson.