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Initial Impressions: Alabama Football answers the call and dispatches Mississippi State

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One week after utter collapse against Texas A&M, the Alabama defense totally shut out the Bulldog Air Raid

NCAA Football: Alabama at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the final score, the Mississippi State Bulldogs actually came out early in this game giving the Alabama defense all they could handle. Will Rogers moved the ball right down the field with gashing passes.. Up until Josh Jobe undercut one of their predetermined sideline fade routes for the interception. A couple of plays later, Bryce Young hit John Metchie for a huge catch and run for a touchdown.

Something to note here: notice that the Bulldogs came on an all-out overload blitz, which was exactly what Alabama and Bryce Young had some issues with against Texas A&M last week.

Instead of faltering, though, Bill O’Brien and Young clearly did some work this week on hitting those quick hot routes against the blitz, and it paid off. In the long term, this will hopefully deter future opponents.

The Bulldogs returned with another long drive on a bunch of short passes, though the Alabama defense did stiffen up to force the field goal. After a quick three and out after a sack, Alabama punted the ball back, getting us all a bit nervous as to how the rest of this game was going to go.

Team captain Jordan Battle, though, had other plans. Will Rogers reared back and launched a deep shot down the left sideline, and as the camera zoomed out to catch up, I feared that we’d see a player in Maroon sprinting all alone down the field. Instead, we saw Battle racing over from centerfield like a ballistic missile and picking it off. He tight roped the sideline before sprinting all the way to the endzone, trucking the QB in the process.

A 3rd down combo sack from Brian Branch and Christian Harris got the ball back for the Tide, who promptly punted the ball back to the Bulldogs, who punted it right back to Alabama. Defense, am I right?!

Anyway, this was when Bill O’Brien dusted off that old 2011-style playbook and went 15 plays for 93 yards while chewing up nearly 8 minutes of game clock. The drive featured some nice runs, a couple of good third down conversions (again, beating blitzes), and even overcame a rough block-in-the back penalty to get into the redzone.

With the ball at the 6 yard line and 4 downs at his disposal, what do you thing O’Brien called?

Why, three straight handoffs to Brian Robinson, who, as expected, got postive yardage on all three attempts. See... What is REALLY that hard?

To their credit, the Bulldogs pulled off a nice pass right after that, with Rogers chunking one 43 yards downfield. Jalyn Armour-Davis actually outran the wide receiver and would have been in great position had the ball been thrown correctly, but it was a little underthrown and the receiver managed to make a tough, leaping catch.

I continue to contend that the underthrown deep ball is a glitch in all levels of football.

The Bulldogs got another 20 yards when their receiver caught a tough pass down the right sideline, but the officials inexplicably never reviewed it, even though he clearly landed with both feet a good ways out of bounds.

The defense tightened up again, though, and forced another field goal after Will Anderson utterly destroyed both the right tackle and the QB, getting charged for manslaughter in the process.

Saban did actually call a timeout to stop the clock and give his offense the chance to make a 1 minute drive, but that got ruined after the refs marked a first down pass short and he was forced to use another timeout before calling it quits and going to halftime.

On the opening play of the second half, Young hit Jameson Williams on a deep curl after playaction, and the speedy transfer did the rest himself, taking it 75 yards for a score.

Williams has been an absolute godsend to this offense, and he’s so much more than just a deep threat. I don’t know how a defender is supposed to cover a guy that can run that fast and then suddenly just stop and turn around.

The Bulldog offense made one last effort to get back into the game, and managed to drive down the field on a few nice passes before Will Anderson again wrecked things and forced an immediate intentional grounding on 3rd down, and the Bulldogs settled for their 3rd field goal and their final points in the game.

From there, it was pretty much ballgame as the Bulldogs totally folded. Will Rogers took back to back sacks, and Alabama turned that into a 50-yard catch and run touchdown from Brian Robinson when Young, again, hit him on a quick hot route against an all-out third down blitz.

Alabama went into clock-kill mode for the rest of the 4th quarter, and Brian Robinson got another rushing touchdown and Traeshon Holden got a 29-yard catch and run for the final score of the game while the Bulldog offense pretty much just gave up.

Coming out of a tough loss to Texas A&M where a lot of things just didn’t look to be in sync, Alabama was still stumbling a little bit on both sides of the ball early on in this one, and the pick-6 from Battle and early interception from Jobe covered up how much the defense was getting gashed.

But, credit to both the players and the coaching staff: they addressed pretty much every issue from last week and, once they got things firing, they absolutely blasted Miss State for the rest of the game. Young proved over and over again he was ready for the overload and all-out blitzes, and the defense tightened up and tackled better, particularly against the running backs out of the backfield.

And the offense converted in the redzone 100% of the time, punching it in with the running game every chance they got.

Credit to O’Brien for fixing the specific issues from last week, and credit to the whole defense for ramping up the intensity and making some really emphatic tackles. Of course, it really helps when a certain Will Anderson goes absolutely nuclear, notching 4 sacks, 6 tackles, a tipped pass, and probably at least 6 more QB pressures. All while getting held on nearly every player.

When a pass rusher dominates like that, it really makes things easier for his teammates and coaches. After Anderson got quite vocal in the media this week about challenging his team to step up, it was awesome to see him back up his words with the most dominant game from an edge rusher we’ve seen in the Saban era.

We also saw a little shuffling in the secondary. Daniel Wright seemed to take back over at safety for DeMarcco Hellams, and Brian Branch didn’t get anywhere near as much dime work as we’d expect against an air raid. For his part, Wright wasn’t on the receiving end of any bad plays, and made a couple of nice tackles.

At linebacker, Christian Harris and Henry To’oTo’o both played more physical than the previous week and it made a difference. While the Bulldogs were never going to run the ball much, holding the Bulldog’s running backs to only 40 total rushing yards while notching 7 sacks on Will Rogers to bring the total to -1 rushing yards was a tremendous effort from the Alabama front 7 that had struggled mightily last week.

The Tide defense has now put together awesome performances against very, very good offenses in Mississippi State and Ole Miss, while struggling with less accomplished offenses in Texas A&M and Florida. It’s a classic case of playing up (or down) to levels competition, and is a sign of mentality/consistency issues moreso than unfixable flaws. Can they maintain it going forward? That remains to be seen, but if Will Anderson continues to lead the effort like he did this week, I like their chances.

Moving back to the offense, Chris Owens definitely improved from his outing the week before, but he’s a limited player with a clear ceiling at this point. And Darrian Dalcourt had some really bad whiffs up the middle leading to a couple of quick sacks. If anything winds up holding this team back, it’s going the be the pass blocking on the offensive line. I’m not even really sure what the fix is there.

At running back, Brian Robinson continues to totally exceed expectations, and at this point, I think he needs to be the focal point of the offense. Roydell Williams also had some nice runs today. He’s still got some work to do with patience behind the line of scrimmage, but the dude has crazy quick feet and is more than happy to run straight through any defender in front of him.

Also, Traeshon Holden is doing his best to earn more and more playing time. The sophomore receiver had a couple of really nice catch and runs, showcasing surprising speed to go along with his size. If he could step up as a regular contributor in the receiving group, it could take a lot of the burden off of Metchie and Williams.

The receiver group as a whole cleaned things up today, with the only drop coming from tight end Cam Latu. TE Jahleel Billingsley wasn’t targeted at all, but he did make one really great block down the sidelines on the big touchdown pass for Brian Robinson.

Finally, the special teams group was fine today. James Burnip averaged 38 yards per punt, but two of his three punts were attempts to drop the ball near the endzone. JoJo Earle nearly muffed two different fair catches, but fortunately avoided disaster. Jameson Williams had a great kick return get called back for a block in the back, and Will Reichard changed his kickoff strategy to just hitting everything into endzone, rather than risking dropping them into the right corner of the field to tempt a return every time.

All in all, it was an encouraging rebound for the Tide. The defense really picked up their game, and the offense made adjustments to all of the things that were causing issues. This team proved to themselves that they can still compete with the best and be the best. Now they just have to maintain that focus and energy game in and game out.

Roll Tide!