Well, that went about as we’ve come to expect. Every year, Alabama is blessed to play the Bulldogs one week after a war of physical and mental attrition against LSU. It’s the perfect perennial trap game, and State always succeeds in making the whole thing as ugly as possible despite rarely ever actually being in position to win it.
In the first two drives, Alabama ran the ball right down their throats off the back of new starting left guard, Deonte Brown. Then, Brown went out with injury and, simultaneously, the Tide didn’t have another good drive the rest of the game. They did get one more TD after State muffed a punt, but it was a short-field freebie. With Brown going out, the Bulldogs also figured out how to scheme free rushers against the Tide O-line, and Tua Tagovailoa spent most of the day on his back. Four sacks were a career high, and I don’t even know how many other big hits he took after scrambling just pack the line of scrimmage or getting rid of the ball at the last second.
Ultimately, it led to three Bulldogs hitting him at the same time, one right in the thigh, and knocking him out of the game in the third quarter. After that, the Tide defense did it’s thing and harassed Nick Fitzgerald on every snap and contesting every pass. The Bulldogs ultimately got only 169 yards. They had 44 total rushing yards. 38 of which came on a single run from Kylin Hill where Anfernee Jennings missed a TFL and Dylan Moses got trucked. Mississippi State only got within a sniff of the endzone one time, and they had a TD wiped out by a block in the back that should have earned Shyheim Carter an academy award for flopping. Then they had a false start, followed by a sack and a missed field goal. After that, the shut out was never in doubt.
Offensively, the Tide’s output was half of their previous season low. Tua Tagovailoa spent more time on the ground than actually throwing, and got picked off by a linebacker on a zone coverage that totally fooled him. The Alabama offensive line was totally incapable of communicating to pick up the myriad of free rushers that State threw at them. As time wore on, the Bulldogs also started keying in on the interior run game that opened up so well for the Tide.
Josh Jacobs was really the star of the show on offense, as he evolved before our eyes from an elusive, change-of-pace back to someone who ran with enough power to rival some of Trent Richardson’s antics back in 2009. He pushed piles on every run, and straight up trucked a couple of Bulldog defenders on different plays. His 20 carries for 97 yards was the closest to a true “lead back” role we’ve seen at Alabama this season. With Damien Harris rumored to be on a snap count with a minor injury and Najee Harris also still nursing his ankle, Jacobs’ effort was absolutely critical for keeping the Tide offense on the field, even if there wasn’t anything in the way of high flying points we’ve become accustomed to this season.
The special teams actually looked competent this week. Mike Bernier downed one punt on the 1 yard line, while Joseph Bulovas nailed a career long 49 yard field goal that had Bryant-Denny going nuts while Bulovas himself looked like he couldn’t believe he made it.
Moving forward, this game will give Saban some real coaching points to the offensive line and Tua in blitz pickup. LSU started to find the weakness last week, but Miss State really exploited it tonight. At this point, it looks pretty obvious that Tua’s knee will have him hobbled the rest of the season, so it will be even more imperative for the O-line to keep him clean... especially with Jalen Hurts hobbled on his ankle as well. We saw tonight that Mac Jones is absolutely not ready to keep this team moving with even a competent offense. He looked terrified out there, double and triple clutching on screens and staring down one receiver every play.
On defense, Alabama is looking better and better every week. Back to back shut outs against the #3 and #16 teams in the nation is nothing to shake a fist at. Quinnen Williams and Isaiah Buggs have been absolute forces along the defensive line, and Johnny Dwight came out the the depths of the bench to disrupt a couple of plays in the backfield. Mack Wilson might have had his best game of his career, and was all over the field on blitzes, run support, and pass coverage. The secondary was nearly perfect. Saivion Smith had a couple of break ups, and I don’t think Patrick Surtain was ever even thrown at.
It’s coming at a good time too, with Tua, Jalen, both Harris running backs, Devonte Smith, Henry Ruggs, and Deonte Brown all ailing on offense, the defense starting to gel and step up is just what this team really needs, especially with the Auburn game and post-season coming up.
Next week is the bye-scrimmage against the Citadel. Preserving health and shoring up the O-line communication has to be priority number #1 for the next two weeks before the annual cesspit of a match against Auburn.
A win is a win though, and a 24-point shut out is something that would have been a dominant performance for Alabama just a few years ago. It’s funny what one season of an elite QB has done to our perspective as fans.