It’s not over yet in the SEC West, but Alabama beating Mississippi State, handing the Bulldogs their first loss of the season with a punishing brand of the best defense in the nation, puts the Crimson Tide in pole position in the division and one win away from making the conference championship game.
Alabama jumped to a 19-0 lead in the middle of the second quarter before allowing Mississippi State back in the game. As bad as they made the Dan Mullen designed offense look, you can’t hold Dak Prescott back forever. Prescott did throw three interceptions while Alabama didn’t turn the ball over once, but he threw two touchdown passes and got Mississippi State to within six and five in the fourth quarter. With ten seconds left in the game their onside kick was a last ditch attempt that failed to keep their undefeated bid alive.
This wasn’t an impressive offensive game from Alabama because they don’t have the kind of offense that puts on big games against very good teams. However, they did avoid mistakes, and stopped the Bulldogs for long enough to build a comfortable lead to lean back on. Blake Sims tossed one touchdown pass to Amari Cooper, who was the recipient on eight of the 19 completions. The running game was good, nothing special, going for 124 yards. However, with just 335 yards of offense and 28 minutes of possession, Alabama proved they’re the best team in the SEC right now.
What did they do? Take away Prescott’s long passes and eliminate State’s ability to run in between the tackles. Prescott completed 27-of-48 passes for 290 yards and ran for 82 more. But when he has to throw the ball that much, it probably means Mississippi State are in trouble. The ground game produced just 3.7 yards per carry, with Josh Robinson slowed down to just 37 yards on 12 carries. He caught six passes for 69 yards, but wasn’t able to show his usual open field explosiveness. The opportunities were taken away from him and his teammates for almost the entire game.
One big key was stopping the third down. Alabama held Mississippi State to just 5-of-14, resulting in a 3.1 total QBR for Prescott on third. He entered the game with the best QBR in the nation on those situations. The big play ability on first down, something the Bulldogs were known for through the first nine games of the season, was nowhere to be found as well. Improving to 9-1 (6-1 in the SEC), Alabama have been able to hold all of their opponents to under 25 points this season.
Mississippi State fell like many number ones do when they faced ranked opponents. Part of being the best is often avoiding tough games. The Bulldogs are the ninth team over the last 30 years to lose as the number one AP team on their first meeting with a ranked opponent. Oregon in 2010 are the only ones that didn’t fall for that trap, making it to the national championship game and losing there to Cam Newton and Auburn.
So what now? It’s not over yet. It’s interesting to see how the committee rankings respond to this result – how far do Mississippi State fall from number one in the nation and how high Alabama rise from number five: Florida State won, Oregon didn’t play and TCU barely won in Kansas. Arizona State (below Alabama) lost, Baylor didn’t play and Ohio State won as well. As far as the division is concerned, Mississippi State need to win their two remaining games (Vanderbilt and Ole Miss on the road) and hope for Auburn, who are in something of a free fall, to win in Tuscaloosa against the Tide.