Alabama’s Cotton Bowl matchup with Michigan State was not the close and gritty contest many thought it would be as the Crimson Tide ran wild at AT&T Stadium to win the Cotton Bowl 38-0 and earn a date with Clemson in the national championship game on the 11th.
Alabama star running back and Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry ran for 75 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries, while quarterback Jake Coker completed 25 of 30 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns and the Tide’s strong defense left the Spartans’ usually balanced offense searching for answers.
For the first quarter and a half, fans got what they paid for. Neither team gave the other an inch and everything seemed set up for a defensive, low-scoring matchup.
But then Coker went long and found freshman Calvin Ridley for a gain of 50 yards to put Alabama at MSU’s 1-yard line, with Henry’s 1-yard touchdown run following soon afterward. Alabama would add a field goal to enter halftime up 10-0, but that was only the beginning.
Alabama would start the second half with a nine play, 75-yard drive that was capped with Ridley’s six-yard touchdown catch to make the score 17-0, and Michigan State would fumble on the next drive. Both teams would end up punting the ball off on their next respective drives, but that of the Spartans came at a heavy price. After going three-and-out, Michigan State punted out of the back of its own end zone and then had to watch Alabama defensive back Cyrus Jones return the ball 57 yards for a touchdown to make the score 24-0.
"The Tide can smell that title game."
Cyrus Jones, 57 yards to the house and Alabama is in total control on ESPN.https://t.co/12B2zncVis
— ESPN (@espn) January 1, 2016
Michigan State had to punt yet again on its next drive, and Alabama needed just one play after taking over to score again. This time, Coker found Ridley, who finished with eight catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns, for a 50-yard bomb that upped the score to 31-0.
When Jake Coker throws to Calvin Ridley, good things happen. https://t.co/1Tw2yTEC6R
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) January 1, 2016
Alabama would add another touchdown on Henry’s 11-yard run, further establishing itself as the team to beat in the championship game despite Clemson’s strong and balanced attack.
In terms of what went wrong for Michigan State, it’s hard to pinpoint just one issue. Quarterback Connor Cook completed just 19 of 39 passes for 210 yards and two interceptions. Michigan State managed just 29 total rush yards on 26 carries and converted just 25 percent of all third down attempts, though ‘Bama did not fare much better at 33 percent.
Long story short, Michigan State was outmatched and outclassed and started playing on its heels the moment Alabama converted a big play and then took the lead rather than using it to keep cool, calm and collected and stay focused on the field.
As a result, fans will now receive a battle of speed vs. complete power when Alabama meets Clemson in just over a week.
*Featured Photo (above) credit to USA TODAY Sports