STARKVILLE, Miss. — Pinning Alabama’s offense behind the chains is not enough to stop it. It may even bring to light the unit’s strength.
UA entered Saturday’s game at Mississippi State with the nation’s best quarterback rating on 3rd and 10 or longer, with nine of its 14 completions getting the first down and three times scoring touchdowns in that situation. Against the Bulldogs, third-and-long conversions and other situational offense got the Crimson Tide a sizable early lead, enough to coast to a 38-7 win.
“That’s something we’ve done a good job of all year long,” UA coach Nick Saban said. “We don’t want to create those situations, and especially in this game because we felt like that’s their M-O as a team: try to get you in negative plays, try to get you in third-and-long and they got a pretty exotic third-down package of a lot of odd, different pressures they try to eat you up with.
“We were trying to avoid those situations today, but I know we overcame some.”
The original backbreaker was the game’s third play from scrimmage, Alabama facing a third-and-10. A 37-yard strike from Tua Tagovailoa to Jerry Jeudy sucked the energy from a defense and a stadium that sensed an opportunity to get an early upper hand on a top 5 team; UA scored two plays later.
A 15-yard completion on third-and-9 led to UA’s third touchdown, and the game was iced with a 13-play, 70-yard touchdown drive that included a 13-yard completion on third-and-11 and a 12-yard completion on third-and-8.
There were times where being in those situations was a self-inflicted wound. The 37-yard pass to Jeudy, for instance, was partially a product of an Alex Leatherwood false start. In the second quarter, a Landon Dickerson personal foul created a second-and-28 — which was quickly erased by a 23-yard connection between Tagovailoa and Najee Harris.
Saban mentioned the problematic penalties on multiple occasions after the game, but UA has the offense to erase those miscues — and they aren’t well-timed random events.
“That’s something we work on during practice each and every week,” Jeudy said. “We got days that we just focus on third down: what we’re going to run, how we’re going to execute this play. Today, we did a good job doing that.”
Jeudy is often the recipient of that hard work. Three of his seven catches and 74 of his 114 receiving yards came on third downs. Jeudy entered the game second in the SEC in both third-down receptions and third-down receiving yards; after this performance, four of Jeudy’s eight receptions of 25 yards or more have come on third down.
“When you have the skill guys we do, it always gives you an opportunity to make explosive plays,” Saban said. “I know the very first drive, they played Cover 2 on third-and-long, we hit Jerry on a middle read down the middle for an explosive play. I think our players recognize what they’re in and I thought they did a good job of converting some of those situations.”
Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson