No. 3 Alabama thumps No. 20 Mississippi State
STARKVILLE – It wasn’t until the postgame press conference that Alabama’s Nick Saban could explain why he was roaming the sidelines with a prominent cut and bruise on his left cheek.
Even the Tide’s longtime coach couldn’t avoid his team’s tremendous pass rush.
No. 3 Alabama used a dominant defense – including nine sacks – to beat No. 20 Mississippi State 31-6 on Saturday night at Davis Wade Stadium. Jonathan Allen had a team-high three sacks. He also inadvertently smacked Saban as he was running out onto the field in the first quarter.
“He’s a tough guy – he’ll be all right,” Allen said with a grin. “I asked if he was OK and he said he was good.”
Mississippi State, on the other hand, didn’t fare so well.
Alabama (9-1, 6-1 Southeastern Conference, No. 2 CFP) survived its last real test before the Iron Bowl in two weeks, overcoming a slow start by scoring three long touchdowns in the second quarter to beat the Bulldogs (7-3, 3-3, No. 17 CFP) for an eighth straight season.
Derrick Henry ran for 204 yards and two touchdowns. The Tide won easily despite being outgained 393 yards to 379.
“It was kind of weird game,” Saban said. “Every touchdown was a big play.”
Alabama struggled on offense during the first quarter and had just 40 total yards early in the second. But Cyrus Jones’ 69-yard touchdown on a punt return – when he reversed field and broke a few Mississippi State arm tackles – broke a scoreless tie and jolted the Tide awake for two more big plays before halftime.
The first was when Jake Coker found Calvin Ridley on a short pass. The 6-foot-1, 188-pound freshman used a nifty move at midfield to shake a Mississippi State defender and then sprinted for a 60-yard touchdown, pushing the Tide ahead 14-0.
There was nothing fancy about the second one. Henry found a seam in the middle of the field and once his 242-pound body hit full speed, nobody was going to catch him before a 74-yard dash to the end zone.
Henry added a 65-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott threw for 300 yards, but the Bulldogs never found the end zone. He completed just 22 of 43 passes and constantly had to deal with Alabama’s defense in his face.
Alabama’s nine sacks were the most for the program since 1998 against Vanderbilt. Coker completed 15 of 25 passes for 144 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said his team played “fantastic” defense for most of the night, but was undone by Alabama’s ability to make big plays.
“You’re looking at 69-, 60-, 74- and 65-yard touchdowns,” Mullen said. “You’re not going to win doing that.”
Mississippi State did a lot of things well on offense during the first half – except for get into the end zone. The Bulldogs outgained the Tide 254-180 before halftime but squandered a few scoring opportunities.
A fourth-and-goal at the 1 was stuffed when Prescott ran into Alabama’s defensive line and a 50-yard field goal try fell several yards short. Near the end of the first half, the Bulldogs’ offense was on the move again but Alabama picked up its fifth and sixth sacks to push Mississippi State out of scoring range.
On top of Allen’s three sacks, Alabama’s A’Shawn Robinson added 2 1/2 sacks and Ryan Anderson had two.
“We thought the one thing that might be in our favor in this game was our defensive line against their offensive line,” Saban said.
It was a deflating loss for Mississippi State, which had climbed back into outside contention in the SEC West thanks to a four-game winning streak.
By DAVID BRANDT, AP Sports Writer