It was a long ride home for the Mississippi State Bulldogs after falling to the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa and losing their top spot they’ve held for much of this season.
Alabama’s Blake Sims shined again this week, leading the Tide to a huge victory over the number one team in the country. Alabama’s defense didn’t disappoint either, Trey DePriest initiated the first score for Alabama by tackling Josh Robinson for a safety in the first quarter.
Unable to score a touchdown in the red zone, Alabama was forced to kick a field goal at the end of opening quarter resulting in a baseball-esque score of 5-0 to end the first. Amari Cooper (at no surprise) had the first touchdown of the game, followed by a Derrick Henry rushing touchdown on the next possession and suddenly Alabama was shutting out the top team in the country 19-0.
Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott, who was very vocal and unconcerned about playing in a loud, sold out Bryant-Denny, had one of the worst games of his career. Despite putting up 290 passing yards and two touchdowns, Prescott threw a career high three interceptions in the battle with the Tide. Before Saturday, Prescott had only thrown one interception on the road.
Although Mississippi State came away with a loss, the Bulldogs controlled the offensive side of the ball for most of the game. They had 428 total yards on offense and an impressive 26 first downs (compared to Alabama’s 17). Also in a category that Alabama didn’t even attempt, State was perfect on fourth down conversions, completing 3 of 3.
Despite all of these offensive stats, coach Dan Mullen’s top-ranked team remained scoreless until they kicked a field-goal with seconds remaining in the first half. They never got into a solid rhythm and when it looked like they were starting to click, a miscue would set them right back.
The second half appeared to be the start of Prescott’s comeback, with a field goal and their most successful drive of the game, but resulted in an interception from Alabama’s Cyrus Jones. With everything going in Alabama’s favor, Sims had 3 straight incompletions and a false start penalty that would keep Alabama from capitalizing on the turnover.
The fourth quarter started with a touchdown pass from Prescott to Fred Ross, but that high didn’t last long. Alabama scored on a T.J. Yeldon 4-yard run and in an odd fashion, went for and failed the two point conversion, putting the Tide up 25 to 13. The Bulldogs came up empty handed on the next possession, as Prescott threw another interception, this time to Alabama’s Landon Collins.
In a last effort to beat Alabama, Prescott led his team on an impressive drive, scoring with a pass to Jameon Lewis to bring the game within range, Tide ahead just 25-20. However, they ran 10 plays for 53 yards and drained the game clock down to 18 seconds. A predictable onside kick followed, and Alabama recovered it, sealing the win against the number one team in the country.
Take it from coach Dan Mullen himself, as he summed up where they went wrong as team:
“If you look, very simply, the things they did to win: they were plus-three turnover ratio, they won the kicking game by keeping us pinned and they won field position battles all night long,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. “In big games, those are really the things that are going to make a difference.”
Looking at this game on paper, Mississippi State out-played Alabama in almost every statistical category, but turnovers and poor field position after the punt is what made the difference in this game. It is in these areas where as a quarterback your poise and confidence is at question. Is Prescott a National Champion caliber quarterback? If he lets pressure get to him in the regular season, how could he compete in and win in the playoff?
While the College Football Playoff committee will have the task of whether to keep Mississippi State in the top four, you have to wonder if they have the leadership and poise it takes to win big games, under pressure?
On Saturday, the answer to that question was no.
Alabama and Mississippi State both have in-conference games remaining. The Bulldogs will face Vanderbilt this week and will then travel to Oxford to take on Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl. The Egg Bowl, which doesn’t have as big as significance as it once did, might still be significant when the CFP Committee determines Mississippi State’s destiny.
The Tide has an out-of-conference game this weekend against Western Carolina and the following week Auburn will pay the Tide a visit for the Iron Bowl. Alabama will look for revenge in this game after the heartbreaking loss they experienced last year in Auburn. These are must wins for Alabama in order to make it to the SEC Championship.
*Section Photo credit to Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Marvin Gentry, USA Today Sports