Will all of the so-called college football experts who said that Michigan State was built to beat Alabama, please line up in the Zero Line. For all those who said Michigan State was closer to Alabama than was the case in the Capital One Bowl five years ago, give yourself a pat on the back. This year the Spartans lost by only 38-0, better than that previous meeting. A little better. In 2010 it was 49-7.
Alabama dominated Michigan State Thursday night in the Dallas Cowboys Stadium with the first shutout in the Cotton Bowl since 1963 (LSU 13, Texas 0) and the third most lopsided score in the history of the bowl game.
This was more than a Cotton Bowl game. The victory in the semifinal game of the College Football Playoff sends Bama to Phoenix on Jan. 11 to meet Clemson for the national championship. Clemson was a 37-17 winner over over Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl earlier in the day.
Clemson, coached by Dabo Swinney, a former Alabama player and assistant coach, is the nation’s only undefeated team at 14-0 and ranked first in the nation. The Crimson Tide, ranked second, improved to 13-1.
Where to begin?
Usually, it is with Derrick Henry, who was in great part responsible for Alabama being in this position with his Heisman Trophy production. Henry had some milestones, to be sure, but for the most part took a backseat to the passing game. Henry had 20 rushes for 75 yards to put him over 2,000 for the season and two touchdowns to extend his longest-in-the nation streak to 19 consecutive games with a TD.
It was fifth-year quarterback Jacob Coker who was the man of the hour for Bama as he out-staged his far more lauded counterpart, Michigan State’s Connor Cook. Coker completed 25-30 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
Freshman Calvin Ridley was the recipient of eight of those passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns. He had two 50-yard receptions, one for a touchdown and one that set up a one-yard Henry TD.
Coker was winner of the Sanford Trophy as the game’s most valuable offensive player.
(Cook was 19-39 for 210 yards with two interceptions and was sacked four times.)
In addition to the two touchdowns by Henry and the two on Coker-to-Ridley passes, Cyrus Jones had a 57-yard punt return for a TD. He had 5 punt returns for 80 yards. Jones also had an interception and was winner of the McKnight Award as the game’s top defensive player.
Adam Griffith was good on a 47-yard field goal and was 5-5 on extra point kicks.
As has been the case in other games, Coker benefitted from a Michigan State defense that loaded up to stop Henry.
Michigan State suffered much the same fate that others have against Alabama’s defense. The Tide held the Spartans to only 29 yards on 26 carries. The pass defense gave up some yards, but no points and turned in interceptions by Cyrus Jones at the end of the first half and by Dillon Lee near the end of the game that helped keep the Spartans off the scoreboard.
Kenyan Drake had four rushes for 60 yards, with one of those runs going for 58 yards and setting up the Tide’s final touchdown. ArDarius Stewart had 7 receptions for 37 yards, O.J. Howard 3-59, and Richard Mullaney 3-53.
Alabama had 21 first downs to 16 for the Spartans. Bama had 35 rushes for 154 yards and total offense of 66 plays for 440 yards. Michigan State had 65 plays for 239 yards.
Both teams were penalized 6 times, the Spartans for 33 yards, Bama for 69.
Alabama had only a slight advantage in time of possession, 32:56 to 27:04, and was only slightly better on third down conversions, the Spartans 4-16, the Tide 4-12.
JK Scott punted 6 times for a 46.5 yard average with four punts going inside the MSU 20.
Reggie Ragland led the Tide with 7 tackles and broke up a pass. Lee had 6 tackles, including being in on one for a loss, in addition to his interception. Ryan Anderson had four, including a sack and a tackle for loss, and Geno Matias-Smith and Reuben Foster were also in on four tackles each. Jonathan Allen had two tackles, both sacks totaling 15 yards. Tim Williams also had a sack for 10 yards.
To say the game started slowly is an understatment. The first quarter ended 0-0. Bama did not give the ball to Henry until the second play of its second possession.
But midway through the second quarter Bama gained momentum on both sides of the ball. The Alabama defense had begun to affect Cook. He had three consecutive misses on passes, forcing a punt.
Coker hit Mullaney on a 15-yard gain to start the Tide drive, hit Stewart for 11 on a third-and-seven to keep it going, then connected with Ridley on a 50-yard play to inside the Michigan State 1. After a penalty of a few inches for too many men on the field, Henry bulled over for a touchdown.
A three-and-out against the Spartans, punctuated by Ryan Anderson’s sack, got the Tide started on a second scoring drive. Passes of 14 and 41 yards to Howard put Bama deep into Michigan State territory, but the Tide had to settle for an Adam Griffith 47-yard field goal and a 10-0 lead at intermission.
Alabama got the ball to start the second half and took it 75 yards in nine plays for a touchdown. Michigan State helped the cause with two 15-yard penalties on the possession. It ended with Coker passing from the six to Ridley, who made an excellent catch of a contested ball along the sideline in the end zone. The original ruling was that the pass was incomplete, but the review turned it into a touchdown and a 17-0 Bama lead.
Michigan State couldn’t move on its next two possessions, unless one counts moving backwards. The Spartans faced a fourth-and-22 from its three. The punt went to Jones at the Alabama 43. Jones did most of it on his own in heading down the sideline, giving a little hesitation move about the 25, and taking it in for his Alabama record fourth punt return for a touchdown and a 24-0 lead.
Barely a minute later the Tide would add another touchdown.
The Spartans were held on a three-and-out and a Jones punt return set Bama up at midfield. On first down, Coker found Ridley yards behind the Michigan State secondary and the touchdown drive of one play had taken just 9 seconds. It was Alabama 31, Michigan State 0.
Bama would wind it up with another quick touchdown, the last one of the night, midway through the fourth quarter. The Tide seemed to be content to run the clock, but Drake’s run at right end turned into a big play. He started down the right side, cut back to the middle, and finished with a 58-yard run to the Spartans 11. Henry came in to give Drake a breather and took it the last 11 yards at right end for the touchdown and the 38-0 decision. It had been a three-play, 69-yard drive that took 1:38.
96 Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE Lee intercepted Cook at the Alabama 30 on the next-to-last play of the game. The last play was a victory kneeldown, the perfect way to end a year and prepare for the national championship game early in the New Year.