Alabama plugged and chugged its way down the field as soon as it got the ball.
Seven of the Crimson Tide’s nine opening-drive plays were rushes. Running back Damien Harris capped off the series with a 1-yard run, sparking Alabama’s 24-0 victory Saturday against Mississippi State in Bryant Denny Stadium.
Then, when the Crimson Tide’s offense returned to the field, it did the same thing. This time, nine of its 13 plays were rushes. Running back Josh Jacobs ended up with a 1-yard run to score at the end of the possession.
Alabama had 89 rushing yards in those drives alone.
“At that point, we dominated them I feel like,” UA offensive lineman Jedrick Wills Jr. said. “We were doing what we wanted to do – running the ball, throwing the ball, moving down the field.”
But then the Crimson Tide’s engine slowed and sputtered.
While Alabama rushed for 83 yards in the first quarter – quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was sacked for a loss of 6 yards to end the period and subtract from the first two drives’ mark – it had only 59 additional yards picked up on the ground through the final three quarters.
“Well, they started pressuring a lot more,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “We didn’t handle the pressure really well in the run game. We got behind in the sticks a lot in the game, which allows the defense to predict and control what’s going to happen.”
UA finished with 142 rushing yards, its second-lowest total this season.
Things really started to change when the Crimson Tide lost left guard Deonte Brown. Saban said afterward that Brown sustained a turf toe injury, which “may be a little bit more of an issue for him, especially for next week.”
When Brown left, Lester Cotton Sr. stepped in. Cotton started in that position the first seven games this season. Brown took over the role against Tennessee before the idle week.
“Deonte has played really, really well for us these couple games he has started,” Saban said. “… I can’t comment on how Lester played until I watch the film, but we have confidence that he can play and play well. He’s been a starter here for a long time, so we don’t feel like it should have had an impact.”
Maybe it did. Maybe Mississippi State just figured out how to stop Alabama’s run game.
“Collectively, it’s on us,” Wills said. “We have to pick it up.”
One person did pick it up, just not on the offensive line.
Jacobs had a game-high 97 rushing yards on 20 carries. He really pushed through during the Crimson Tide’s final drive, running the ball six times in a row for 46 yards. Harris then took it from there with four carries for 8 yards.
Saban called Jacobs a demon during that series and was really impressed. He thought it was a great drive, even though Alabama turned the ball over on downs.
“Physicality,” Jacobs said. “You know we’re going to run the ball, and you know they’re going to try to stop the running ball. So they’re going to overload the box and it’s manpower. Me versus you.
Reach Terrin Waack at email@example.com or at 205-722-0229.