Crimson Tide Stuffs State's Offense, Hits Big Plays for Fast Points

Mississippi State has been an excellent red zone offense scoring touchdowns. Alabama has been outstanding in the same area. Something had to give Saturday, and it wasn’t the Crimson Tide defense.

The host Bulldogs ran 87 offensive plays, reached the red zone three times, only had two turnovers all day, held the ball seven minutes longer…and still failed to score a touchdown. By contrast Alabama used four big-play hits, all starting on the far side of the 50-yard line and getting to the goal line.

The result was a 31-6 defeat that dropped #17-ranked Mississippi State to 7-3, 3-3 SEC and elimination from the Western Division contention.

Crimson Tide home runs more than overmatched everything the Bulldogs did between the 20s. “Give them credit, they’re an excellent football team,” Coach Dan Mullen said. And, “Give them credit for following a plan to win.”

Whether Alabama can be credited for ‘planning’ touchdowns of 68 yards (punt return), 60 yards (a short pass broken into a long run), 74 yards (a straight dive play on third down), and 65 yards (sweep) is debatable. It was unlikely the Tide expected any of those plays to produce points.

But, they did. “That was huge,” S Kivon Coman said. “We usually don’t give up big plays like that.”

Nor does this Bulldog offense get shut down and nearly out. That was the truly frustrating fact after controlling so much of the stat sheet. So many plays, so much time, and those three excellent opportunities…none maximized.

“We didn’t score in the red zone,” WR Fred Ross said. “And that killed us.”

Mostly it seemed QB Dak Prescott was going to get killed. A sack on the day’s very first play set the theme. Eight more times State’s quarterback went down before passing, and others he struggled just to get back to the scrimmage line.

Alabama could afford to come after Prescott every play. The Bulldogs had no appreciable ground game to keep the Tide honest and left the defense free to attack. They also could not afford not to bring pressure since given any time Prescott did deliver the ball for an even 300 passing yards.

But as Prescott said, much of the air gains were offsetting other losses on sacks and hurries. “It changed the play-calling because we were behind the chains trying to catch up at that point.” Prescott finished 22-of-43 with an interception and a couple of fumbles recovered by teammates.

Falling on the football was about the best thing State’s linemen did because Alabama made hash of Bulldog blocking. Prescott tried to help them out as well with constant sideline encouragements. “Just to keep fighting, communicate, what’s the problem, do I need to get it out faster?” And in the second half, “I think they gutted-up and played a little bit harder.”

Had the line been able to move forward just a step, the first half would have been a different game. State took its second series on a 10-play drive, sparked by a pass interference first down, all the way to the one-yard line. Though, it had been first-and-goal from the three.

A couple of well-covered incompletions and two-yard Prescott keeper left 4th-and-one for touchdown. Going for it was the right choice. 4G “We’re an aggressive team,” Mullen said. “We wanted to get a touchdown.” Sending Prescott at right guard wasn’t the right call.

Alabama shoved that side of State’s line backwards and dropped the quarterback for loss.

The Bulldog defense made up for it with four three-and—outs in the half. Alabama actually surprised State by trying to establish their passing game initially, and Bulldog rush and coverage combined to stop series.

“After last week we expected them to try to pound it,” LB Beniquez Brown said. “We did what we had to do to stop them early. Unfortunately they got those runs.”

But not until Alabama got a special teams play, after a scoreless first quarter. P Logan Cooke’s punt only went 34 yards and was a liner at that, ideal for returning. Cyrus Jones fielded at his 31, went left making CB Cedric Jiles miss, and saw LB Zach Jackson staying too far outside. Jones cut in and was gone 69 yards for the touchdown at 10:44.

A series later on the 40-yard line quarterback Jake Coker converted with a throw to Calvin Ridley on the right side. Ridely was a step past the mark but got a good block and a bad tackle try by freshman S Mark McLaurin. The rookie missed on a dive leaving Ridley clear to go down the sideline on a 60-yard score at 8:36.

State did respond somewhat, driving within range for PK Westin Graves to hit a 31-yard field goal at 6:10. He had been short from 50 yards early in the second quarter. But the three points were more than trumped as Derrick Henry asserted himself at last.

With a 3rd-and-nine and State looking to cover, Henry was given a bare-bones basic dive at center. And nobody was there to meet him as Henry went 74 untouched yards.

Alabama padded that halftime lead with a field goal in the third quarter. Before the period ended State got another Graves field goal, of 39 yards at 1:24. But this was after first-and-goal on the seven yard line. WR Donald Gray jumped his own snap count on first down; Prescott absorbed consecutive sacks and nearly turned it over on third down’s fumble. With 4th and 21 it had to be a kick, which was an Alabama win.

State did block a Tide field goal (CB Tolando Cleveland) in the fourth period. But the Dog defense’s point of pride, not allowing a fourth quarter touchdown, ended when Henry got around left end on his 65-yard jaunt at 7:53.

“We talked all week we had to make tackles,” Brown said. “Unfortunately we didn’t do that. We missed tackles and that got them three 60-plus yard touchdowns.”

Henry finished with 204 rushing yards on 22 tries, 140 of that on just two big bursts. Coker had a business-like day, 15-of-25 for 144 yards with the catch-and-run touchdown and a turnover. S Brandon Bryant picked him off in the first quarter though that served as well as a punt.

Ross caught eight of Prescott’s passes for 114 yards. WR De’Runnya Wilson had three balls and 38 yards, and a very bad moment. Prescott under-threw Ross in the fourth quarter for an interception, and Wilson went down on the sideline tackle for a very long time. He was finally carted off with trainers holding him upright. It was a neck issue but Mullen said he’d been told it was not serious. OT Justin Senior came up lame on the very same play and limped on his own steam to the side.

Alabama’s defensive standouts were the front line which brutalized Bulldog blocking. DE Jonathan Allen had 3.0 sacks out of seven tackles, other end Ashawn Robinson 2.5 sacks, and on and on it went. Or, down and down the Dog quarterback kept going under constant pressures.

“That’s what they do well,” RB Brandon Holloway said. “They pass rush and they can stop the run.” Alabama could certainly stop State short of the goal line, especially without having to respect rushes.

“They just made everything tight, made passes harder to catch and running holes smaller,” Ross said.

Alabama also made State’s slim Division hopes disappear. “You can make as much or as little out of it,” said Mullen, now 0-7 against the only West team he has yet to defeat at State. “Losing is terrible.” But, Mullen added, “It’s not like it’s the end of the deal for us.”

Prescott was positive as possible. “We’ve still got to win out. We’re out of the chance of the West but we’ve got a chance to play in a bowl game and make sure we play in a good bowl.”

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