Nick Fitzgerald‘s four-year career at Mississippi State had been a steady climb up the SEC’s record books. The Bulldog quarterback entered Saturday’s game at Bryant-Denny Stadium with 3,325 career yards, 24th in SEC history.
He finished the game with minus-23 yards, falling behind Alabama’s Kenneth Darby and T.J. Yeldon, as well as Auburn’s Ben Tate, into 27th place on the conference’s all-time rushing list.
“We knew Fitzgerald was a really great runner,” defensive lineman Quinnen Williams said. “We just wanted to come in and stop his run game, stop the whole Mississippi State run game, because they have a great running back, great offensive line. We knew it was going to be a physical game. We knew they were going to come in and they were going to run the ball, so we tried to make them one-dimensional.”
Fitzgerald had only one run all night that went for more than 3 yards. He was more effective throwing the ball, going 11 for 20 for 125 yards. But he was still sacked five times, and three of his incompletions came under pressure.
Much of the time, he didn’t even make it to the second level of Alabama’s defense. Williams led the Crimson Tide in tackles for a second straight week, posting four solo tackles and two assists, including two tackles for loss and a sack. Fellow defensive line starters Raekwon Davis and Isaiah Buggs both had five tackles as well.
“We got pressure on him and we got pressure when we weren’t pressuring, so we were rushing with four guys and we could sit back and play coverage, which has been a real key for us,” coach Nick Saban said. “It was the same story last week. When we did pressure, I thought we did a good job of that.”
The 24-0 victory meant Alabama posted shutouts over teams ranked in the AP Top 25 in consecutive games for the first time in school history. Mississippi State finally got a drive moving late in the second quarter, but Fitzgerald was sacked for an 8-yard loss. The Bulldogs missed a 41-yard field goal on the final play of the half and didn’t move back into scoring range the rest of the game.
Alabama’s defense hasn’t given up a touchdown since the first half against Tennessee on Oct. 20, more than 10 full quarters ago. Tennessee’s only score in the second half of that game was on an interception return.
“We’re growing as a defense,” linebacker Dylan Moses said. “We’ve gotten stronger since the beginning of the season. We just want to go into the playoffs strong and finish the season strong.”
The UA defense allowed 169 yards, fewest of any game this season. It also gave up just 3.4 yards per play, the second-best mark this season.
It was also the first time in Fitzgerald’s 42 career games that he finished with negative rushing yards. He spent much of the night going backwards as Alabama’s defense continues to move forward.
“Guys have made improvement all year long,” Saban said. “I think we’ve practiced better as the season has gone on. I think the preparation has been better and I think that has contributed to us playing a little better, making fewer mental errors, guys playing together more, understanding the plan. I think (it was a) good job of implementing the plan two weeks in a row. But it’s all what we can continue to do to strive to improve in the future. We’re going to have a much different challenge this week coming up with the wishbone type of offense (of the Citadel) which we haven’t played against for a long time.”
Reach Ben Jones at email@example.com or 205-722-0196.