Courtesy of Crimson Magazine
By Stan J. Griffin: November 14, 2015
On a day when the No. 2 Alabama football team seemingly could not find any consistent offensive rhythm for the most part, especially in the early going, Nick Saban's Crimson Tide needed something significant to provide a lift as it found itself involved in a gritty affair against Dan Mullen's feisty No. 17 Mississippi State team in Starkville Saturday.
Alabama finally began to find a bit of that offensively and in the special teams department through big plays from Jake Coker, Calvin Ridley, Derrick Henry and Cyrus Jones.
After this, it was just a matter of the Tide's stellar defense and Henry closing the deal, and they did that in convincing fashion as the Crimson Tide took a 31-6 victory over the Bulldogs in front of a crowd of 62,435 at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field.
Alabama improved to 9-1 on the season, including 6-1 in Southeastern Conference play, while Mullen's team fell to 7-3 and 3-3. The Tide moved to within one conference win of repeating as SEC West champions, and Alabama will get a chance to accomplish that feat on Nov. 28 when it plays rival Auburn in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The Tide defense made life miserable early and often for MSU senior quarterback Dak Prescott and his offensive mates as it recorded nine sacks and also tallied 12 plays for losses.
Henry, meanwhile, had another huge effort, as well as another convincing Heisman Trophy statement, against the Bulldogs as he carried the ball 22 times for 204 yards and touchdown runs of 74 and 65 yards.
"I am always pleased with a win, especially on the road," said Saban after the contest. "Mississippi State played a really good game and they have a really good team. Dak Prescott is a really tough guy to defend, and I know they gained a lot of yards today, but our defense did a really good job of not allowing a lot of points and got a stop inside the 5, and a couple of times in the red zone, which I think is really, really important. Punt returns and special teams play on one significant play on special teams and we got it. We really didn't play well on offense in the first half, I think we played a little better in the second half. It was kind of a weird game where every touchdown was a big play. I think the way Mississippi State plays defense, there's a lot of big and little to it They give you a lot of negative plays, but then sometimes you get a hat on a hat and make a big play against them, and we certainly did a good job of doing that a few times today. I'm really proud of our team, and we've got a lot of things we can learn from in this game."
After a first quarter that was scoreless, although MSU was dominating the total yardage and time of possession categories in the early stages of the contest, Alabama was finally able to strike for the game's first points via its special teams unit early in the second period.
Jones fielded a MSU punt at the Alabama 31-yard-line and went the distance for a 69-yard TD return at the 10:44 mark to put the Tide on top 7-0.
About two minutes later, the struggling Tide offense finally struck for its own big play as Coker connected with Ridley, Alabama's standout freshman receiver, on a 60-yard scoring pass.
That TD aerial capped a quick 3-play, 65-yard Alabama drive and made the score 14-0.
With just over six minutes left in the half, MSU gained its first points of the game, on a 31-yard field goal by Westin Graves that cut the Alabama advantage, to 14-3.
Exactly one minute later, however, the Tide answered those points in resounding fashion as Henry took a pitch at the Tide 26 and rambled 74 yards for paydirt to make the Alabama halftime lead 21-3.
With just under 11 minutes left in the third quarter, Adam Griffith added to the Tide's lead, continuing his recent hot streak by kicking a 42-yard field goal to make the score 24-3. That successful kick ended a 9-play, 41-yard drive.
Near the end of the period, the Bulldogs were able to get another drive going, but again the Tide defense stood strong, holding MSU to another field goal as Graves converted a 39-yard kick to make the score 24-6.
There was only one scoring play in the fourth quarter, but it was another huge one for the Crimson Tide, as midway through the period, Henry busted loose yet again for a 65-yard TD run.
That run capped a 2-play, 74-yard scoring sequence and effectively clinched the victory for the Tide as it captured its seventh victory in a row.
If there was a lowlight for the Tide in the contest, it was an injury to senior running back Kenyan Drake, who fractured his arm on a special teams play. Saban said in his postgame press conference that Drake could be out as much as two to three weeks. With Drake out, the Tide finished the game with freshman backs Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough along with backup quarterback Cooper Bateman.
Henry led a Tide rushing effort that tallied 235 yards, and Alabama, overall, had 379 yards of total offense compared to 393 for the host Bulldogs.
Alabama was able to amass that total despite the fact that the Tide lost the time of possession battle 33:30 to 26:30.
Coker completed 15 of his 25 pass attempts for 144 yards and one interception, along with the scoring pass to Ridley.
Ridley had 5 catches for 76 yards and the TD while ArDarius Stewart snagged 4 passes for 32 yards.
Prescott completed 22 of 43 passes for 300 yards, but also threw his second interception of the year and had no scoring passes. With the 58 yards he lost in sacks, he ran 26 times for a grand total of 14 yards.
Fred Ross was the leading receiver for the Bulldogs with 8 catches for 114 yards.
In terms of special teams, while Griffith made one of his field goals while having another one blocked, JK Scott punted 5 times for an average of 40 yards, with a long kick of 47 yards.
Defensively, linebacker Reuben Foster led the Tide with 10 tackles (along with 2 quarterback hurries), with linebacker Reggie Ragland adding 8 and defensive end Jonathan Allen and defensive back Eddie Jackson adding 7 each.
Allen led UA with 3 tackles for loss while lineman A'Shawn Robinson added 2.5 and linebackers Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams with 2 each. Allen also led the Tide with 3 sacks, while Robinson had 2.5, Anderson 2 and Williams 1.5. Marlon Humphrey had an interception.
The Tide returns to action next Saturday, November 21, with a non-conference game against Charleston Southern at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Kickoff is set for 3 p.m. Central Standard Time and the game will be televised by The SEC Network.