Throughout Nick Saban’s tenure as head coach at Alabama, he’s instilled in each of his teams an emphasis on protecting the ball at all costs. It’s been a key ingredient in the Crimson Tide’s success. It’s also been a chink in Alabama’s armor that opponents have attempted to exploit.
Alabama led the SEC in turnover margin from 2015-17. Of Alabama’s last eight losses, however, five occurred when it turned the ball over more than its opponents.
The Crimson Tide lost the all-important turnover battle Saturday, gifting Mississippi State the ball twice compared to just one fumble on a punt-return from the Bulldogs. It marked the first time this season that Alabama’s defense didn’t force a turnover.
“We try to reach our goal on getting turnovers every week and we didn’t force one today so we’re kind of at each other about that a lot in the locker room,” defensive back Shyheim Carter said.
Posting a negative turnover margin didn’t hamper Alabama Saturday, as the Crimson Tide won 24-0, since an anemic Mississippi State offense was unable to transform those mistakes into scores.
The first of Alabama’s turnovers came early in the second quarter, when what appeared to be a miscommunication led to Tua Tagovailoa and Damien Harris botching a handoff. The fumbled ball was recovered by Braxton Hoyett on Mississippi State’s 26-yard line. Yet the Bulldogs couldn’t manage one first down and punted.
An unyielding Mississippi State defense forced Alabama to punt on its ensuing drive, but returner Deddrick Thomas bungled the return and UA freshman gunner Ale Kaho pounced on it at the Bulldogs’ 27. It was Mississippi State’s first lost fumble of the season.
Alabama didn’t waste any time making Mississippi State pay for its error. Three plays later, running back Josh Jacobs caught a short pass from Tagovailoa and darted into the end zone to put the Crimson Tide up 21-0.
Mississippi State received another unexpected present in the third quarter when linebacker Willie Gay Jr. picked off a Tagovailoa pass intended for Jaylen Waddle. It was only Tagovailoa’s second pick of the season, but his second in the last two weeks.
“It happens,” offensive lineman Jedrick Wills Jr. said. “It’s just something that we got to fix. He’ll (Tagovailoa) check it out and see it on film and do better to not throw that pick.”
This time, the Bulldogs had the ball at Alabama’s 40-yard line. But once again, the offense was shut down before gaining even one first down. Another opportunity lost that could’ve made the game a much closer contest.