Mississippi State, although a consensus No. 1 ranked team coming into their road game against No. 3/4/5 ranked Alabama, were underdogs against the Crimson Tide. Most in the national media didn't give them a chance. The Las Vegas odds had MSU as a 10-point underdog.
And Mississippi State looked the part of the underdog the first two quarters. They also looked the part of a football program playing in a true big-game atmosphere for the first time in many, many decades. They looked tentative and nervous as evidenced by an early-game safety, a couple of key penalties at crucial times in drives, poor punts, and tentative play by QB Dak Prescott. And Alabama took advantage of the Bulldog play by jumping out to a quick 5-0 lead after the first quarter and a 19-3 lead at halftime.
Down 19-3 at the half, most Bulldog teams in the past, based on past results, would have likely given up. Not so this team.
Instead of giving up, this team actually started playing with more confidence on their last drive of the first half when they drove from their own 25-yard line to the Alabama 1-yard line. The Dogs were just 1 yard from scoring their first points of the game and going into the locker room down 19-7. But a false start by one of the offensive linemen put the Dogs back out to the 6-yard line. And the Bulldogs ended up having to kick a field goal, making the score 19-3 going into the half.
The Bulldogs came out of the halftime locker room looking like an entirely different team.
While the Dog defense was dominating the Crimson Tide offense during the third quarter, holding the Tide to a total of 2 first downs and 38 total yards, the Bulldog offense started showing signs of life.
On their first drive in the quarter, MSU's offense quickly drove 67 yards before kicking a 32-yard field goal to make the score 19-6. Then, later in the quarter, they started at their own 20-yard line at the 6:12 mark and drove down to the Tide 15-yard line before a poorly thrown pass by Dak Prescott was intercepted in the endzone. But on their next drive in the quarter the Bulldogs wouldn't be stopped, starting at the Alabama 38-yard line (after the Dog defense once again shut down the Tide offense) and ending the drive with a touchdown with 14:16 in the 4th quarter to make the score 19-13.
The momentum was now on the Dogs' sideline.
Mississippi State's offense had scored 13 straight points in the game and the Dog defense had completely shut down the Tide offense. MSU's offense had outgained Alabama's offense 171 yards to 38 in the 3rd quarter and first 44 seconds of the 4th quarter.
But Bama quickly regained the momentum in the 4th quarter by scoring a TD to make the score 25-13. Alabama QB Blake Sims had two crucial third down runs during the drive that caused Bama head coach Nick Saban to say during his post-game interview that that drive was probably one of the greatest in Alabama football history.
With 8:09 left in the 4th quarter and down by 12 points, things looked bleak for the Bulldogs.
But the Dog O came roaring back and drove from their own 26-yard line to the Alabama 20. Prescott had completed 5-of-8 passes for 41 yards and rushed for 2 yards. With a receiver open in the middle of the field around the 10-yard line, Prescott attempted a pass but it was tipped at the line of scrimmage and intercepted at the 15-yard line.
With 5:01 left in the game, Alabama had the ball and what appeared to be control of the game. But the Dog defense once again stood tall, causing the Tide offense to go 3 and out.
The Bulldog offense took over at the 3:08 mark down 25-13 on their 28-yard line.
Like the previous drive, Prescott took control. But unlike the previous drive, there would be no interceptions ending it. Prescott completed 6-of-8 passes for 52 yards and rushed for 19, leading MSU to a TD to make the score 25-20 with 15 seconds on the clock.
MSU had one last chance to get the ball back but an onside kick was recovered by the Crimson Tide ending the game with the score 25-20.
The Alabama fans, all 101,000+ of them, and players celebrated in the stands and on the field. Even the stoic Nick Saban showed a smile. Their team had defeated the No. 1 team in the nation in an epic battle.
On the other side of the field there were no smiles among Bulldog players and coaches, just pain and disappointment, as you would expect from a team that knew things could have ended differently if not for a few mistakes, some that were self-inflicted.
Despite those mistakes, this Bulldog team can hold their head high. They played a great Alabama team that plays outstanding at home. Two SEC teams (Florida and Texas A&M), when playing Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium this season, have lost by an average of 40 points. Mississippi State lost by 5. Mississippi State outgained Alabama by almost 100 yards on offense (428 to 335). Alabama's defense had only given up an average of 186 yards per game to the two SEC teams that had played in Bryant-Denny Stadium this season. MSU's offense had almost 2.5 times that amount of yards. Alabama's offense, against those same two teams, had run up an average of 637 yards per game. MSU's defense allowed just over half that number, 335.
The AP and Coaches pollsters saw the game and showed their respect for this Bulldog program by only dropping them from 1st to 4th in both of their polls.
The College Football Playoff Poll, obviously the most important of all the polls, comes out Tuesday night. If MSU is among the top 4, as many in the media expect, then they likely control their own destiny as far as making the college football playoffs. And they helped do that by standing tall this past Saturday afternoon.
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.