This was, without a doubt, the Tide’s toughest game. Alabama trailed for the most time this season (though it still wasn’t even that long). The defense had trouble getting off the field for much of the game as the Bulldogs exploited Bama’s lack of linebacker depth to pick up short and medium-sized gains, keeping the defense on the field and Jalen Hurts and the offense off the field.
The strategy almost worked for Mississippi State, but they couldn’t keep it up for four whole quarters. The defense stiffened and allowed just 34 yards in the 4th quarter. The offense, which had just two second half series by the start of the 4th, strung together three drives which netted 14 points and a missed field goal.
Both sides of the ball had their struggles throughout the game, and neither was perfect during the 4th quarter. But they did make enough play when they had to.
1st and 10: Alabama trails 24-17 with 14:04 left. The offense has had just two drives in the 16 minutes of the second half. They opened up the half with a couple plays for Josh Jacobs (#8), and he’s now back on the field, to the right of Jalen Hurts (#2). The left defensive end is left unblocked and goes for Hurts, so he hands it off to Jacobs, who immediately plants his foot and cuts upfield. Lester Cotton (#66) has gotten to the second level and sealed the linebacker off. Jacobs sees the hole disappear, and he makes another cut to the left. Jonah Williams (#73) is still blocking his man, which has left an opening for Jacobs. Jacobs runs through it and gets taken down by the safety but not before he has a 7 yard gain.
1st and 10: Alabama is moving the ball well. Hurts is in the pistol with Jacobs behind him. Irv Smith (#82) is bunched right, but he motions to be the H-back. Hurts fakes the handoff to Jacobs as Smith comes across the line to be the lead blocker for Hurts. Jerry Jeudy (#4), the slot receiver on the left, is supposed to block the defensive back; but he just launches his shoulder into him. This barely does anything, so Smith has to pick him up instead of going after the safety. Smith does a good job, and Hurts slips out of the safety’s attempted tackle. He goes for 14 yards before the defender Jeudy was supposed to block takes him out of bounds.
4th and 4: Hurts is in shotgun with Damien Harris (#34) to his right. He has trips left and Ridley on the right. Mississippi State is showing pressure from the right side of the offensive line, and the linebackers come on a delayed blitz around the left side of the line. Hurts looks to his first read on the left, but it’s covered. However, he sees the now open area the Bulldog linebackers have vacated; so he takes off. The defensive end, Grant Harris, is almost able to get back; but Hurts shoots by him. Hurts comes so close to shaking the defensive back who has come charging up, but the defender gets a hand on his foot and trips him up. Still, it’s a 13 yard gain; and the drive is still alive.
2nd and 3: Hurts is in the gun with Harris on his right hip again. Hale Hentges (#84) is on the left side of the line. He engages the the defensive end as Jonah Williams moves up to block one of the linebackers. Cotton pulls from the right and helps Hentges with the end, smashing into him and driving him back. J.C. Hassenauer (#63), who has been filling in for the injured Ross Pierschbacher, blocks down on the defensive tackle; and there’s a hole for Harris. The safety has come around on a blitz. He can’t to Harris before he hits the hole, and there’s now a lot of green space. The remaining linebacker runs right into the backs of a couple of his fellow defenders, taking himself out of the play. The other safety is closing in on Harris, so he goes left where the other safety would have been. Harris slips out of the tackle, throws up stiff arm to the cornerback’s half-hearted tackle, and strolls into the endzone for the game-tying touchdown.
3rd and 8: A penalty on Alex Leatherwood right after the touchdown helped give State great field position after the kickoff. A couple plays later, and the Bulldogs are in Alabama territory. After some uninspired playcalling, though, State faces a 3rd and long. QB Nick Fitzgerald is in shotgun with trips right. The #3 receiver (counting from the outside in) motions to the left but returns back to the right. Minkah Fitzpatrick (#29) follows him. The #2 and #3 receivers both run forward with the #2 going on fly route downfield. The #3 receiver slips around behind, with the hope that Fitzpatrick will get picked by the other receiver and defensive back. It doesn’t work. Fitzpatrick avoids and is right there to make the tackle when Deddrick Thomas catches the pass short of the first down line. Alabama will get the ball back.
1st and 10: A promising drive for the Tide stalled and ended with a missed field goal, giving Mississippi State the ball back with just over two minutes left. I know I had a pit in my stomach.
Nick Fitzgerald is in the gun with a running back to his left and an H-back on the right side. Fitzgerald takes the snap and starts running to his right. It looks like Fitzgerald will keep it or pitch it to the running back, but Fitzgerald shovels to the H-back. He has nowhere to go, though, with Keith Holcombe actually in good position. Anfernee Jennings, who had been matching Fitzgerald, does a good job of changing directions and making the tackle.
3rd and 8: An incomplete pass later, Mississippi State is facing another 3rd and long. Fitzgerald is in shotgun with four wide receivers, three right and one left. We see a play familiar to Alabama fans. The running back motions out of the backfield to the right, faking the swing pass to him to hopefully draw the linebacker out of the way for the quarterback draw. Keith Holcombe doesn’t budge, though, as Hootie Jones starts racing down from his safety spot to counter the possible pass to the back. In the end, it doesn’t even matter where Holcombe is. Isaiah Buggs (#49) has collapsed the pocket already, driving the center back. Fitzgerald has no room and runs right into Davis. Hurts and the offense will get one more chance.
2nd and 9: Harris is on Hurts’ left. Ridley is wide right. State rushes just four, and Alabama’s line blocks it well. Hurts has the time to complete his drop and spot Ridley, who’s open in the middle of the field. He hits Ridley right on the money, and Ridley makes a little move to pick up a couple extra yards. It’s a first down near midfield.
3rd and 15: The drive started well, but an incompletion and an ill-timed sack have the Tide behind the chains. Just before this, Mississippi State was showing heavy blitz and brought it; but Dan Mullen called timeout before the snap. After the timeout, State against showed heavy blitz, and they again brought all eight rushers. Hurts had identified it and told Ridley to change his route to a slant. And boy did it work out. Damien Harris gets a crucial block in the middle of the line, taking the defender’s legs out from under him; and Hurts fires a quick dart to Ridley, whose man was 12 yards off the line of scrimmage. Ridley catches it in stride and is off for a 31 yard gain, stepping out of bounds to stop the clock and save Bama’s last timeout.
1st and 10: The very next play, Alabama has a similar formation; but Devonta Smith (#6) is the lone receiver on the left rather than the right. Bulldogs defensive coordinator brings the heat again, this time sending six rushers. Hurts correctly reads and immediately goes to Smith on the slant. With a corner right in his face, the pass is a little behind Smith, but not enough to matter. The freshman receiver had a couple drops last week against LSU, but Mississippi State is not so fortunate. Smith hauls it in and has his man beat. The safety gets over and tries to tackle him, but Smith just spins around and breaks the tackle. He scores the touchdown and shushes the crowd.