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Initial Impressions from the Mississippi State Game

A banged up Alabama squad made easy work of the Bulldogs.

NCAA Football: Mississippi State at Alabama Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

Alabama came into the game last night more banged up than anyone realized, but managed a stress-free 30-6 defeat of Mississippi State. Defensively, Alabama was without its top two nose tackles in Jaheim Oatis and DJ Dale plus LB Deontae Lawson, and were still missing DE Justin Eboigbe. Perhaps this factored into Mike Leach’s decision to try and run the ball more, which Nick Saban acknowledged was something of a surprise. He also noted that Alabama played dime most of the night, more concerned with stopping the pass, and they did that exceptionally well.

A few impressions:

Eli Ricks and Demarcco Hellams played well and the secondary dominated

Saban said that the game plan this week was built around stopping the passing game, and they did that with aplomb. Will Rogers was under duress all night and his receivers were generally covered. The result was 60 pass attempts for a paltry 231 yards, less than 4 yards per pass.

Kool Aid McKinstry’s dominance is well documented at this point as even Tennessee only targeted him once, and they were getting about all they wanted through the air last week. Still, last night’s contest was a story of redemption for both Ricks and Hellams. Ricks has been languishing on the bench all season and hadn’t played particularly well in the limited action he saw. None of us can know what transpired behind the scenes or what changed this week, but he started for the first time and looked every bit the preseason All-American and first round prospect he was billed to be coming into the season.

Like McKinstry, Ricks has prototypical size for a modern cornerback. Today people are asking where he’s been all season. He was dealing with a back issue in fall camp, and perhaps that contributed. In any case, if he is able to play at this level for the rest of the season it will portend well for future games, especially if they face Tennessee for a second time or see Ohio State in the playoffs. Lots of football left before we start thinking about those possibilities, of course.

Hellams just needed a bounceback game in a better matchup for him, and he got it. His game reminds of Mark Barron, who ended up playing as a linebacker in the NFL. Demarcco weighs in at 213 lbs. and could probably add the 10-12 lbs. needed to become such a hybrid guy. He covers tight ends far better than receivers with track speed, like most safeties, and he hits with authority.

If there is a nit to pick with the secondary, it’s that they still can’t seem to find any ball hawks. Jordan Battle had a ready made pick six tonight on a play he diagnosed beautifully, but the ball seemed to go right through him for a completion. Kool Aid almost had a phenomenal diving interception, but the ball touched the ground before he could secure it. It’s almost comical at this point that they can’t get interceptions back there. Hopefully all of these near misses will lead to a little wave of them after the bye week.

Penalties were greatly reduced

Alabama’s penalty issues have been well publicized, hitting rock bottom last week in Rocky Top with a school record 17, but the Tide managed to play a pretty clean game against the Bulldogs. Alabama was flagged for only three penalties on the night including a weak garbage time pass interference in the end zone just before Mississippi State put up their only points on the night. We will see if the Tide can keep it up when they go on the road twice after the bye week. They are going to need to minimize mistakes if they want to make it to Atlanta.

Dalcourt started at center, and the run game struggled

On offense, Darrian Dalcourt got the start at center. Seth McLaughlin was dressed, but he had some sort of injury at Tennessee. Both players were announced as starters, but Seth never saw the field and the Tide never got the running game going. This seems to be a common theme whenever Seth isn’t in the game. This will be something to watch coming out of the bye week.

Bryce wasn’t himself either

He certainly made some plays as he always does, but something wasn’t quite right with Bryce Young in the game. He made a few uncharacteristically poor throws on what should have been routine attempts. He also fell back into the trap of holding the ball too long against the zone, though in doing so he did make a couple of explosive plays to build the lead. There’s a great chance that the shoulder flared up after all of those attempts in last week’s game. Hopefully a full week of rest will allow him to feel substantially better and get a couple of practices in before they face LSU.

Will Reichard seemed to work things out

In a welcome sight for Alabama fans, Will Reichard looked no worse for wear following his recent misses. He calmly drilled all three of his field goal attempts and looked like the future pro we’ve become accustomed to seeing.

The bye week comes at a good time

It always does, really, since November is usually the most stressful month for the team, but this group really needs to heal up. Besides Young, McLaughlin and all of the missing defenders, Jahmyr Gibbs has been nursing a shoulder issue that bothered him again last night. LSU, only two weeks removed from a 40-13 thrashing at home by the Vols, played its best game of the season yesterday in dismantling an Ole Miss team that hasn’t played as well as its record would indicate. As a result there are now three one loss teams atop the SEC West, and Alabama faces the other two in succession to open November, both on the road. Win both and the West is clinched well before Thanksgiving.

Heal up, men. This ain’t gonna be easy.

Roll Tide.