STARKVILLE, Miss. — The University of Alabama was one of 13 ranked teams forced to go on the road this week. No. 4 Georgia had to survive No. 12 Auburn’s comeback bid, No. 10 Oklahoma had to stage a big comeback and No. 17 Cincinnati needed a field goal at the buzzer; No. 8 Minnesota, No. 19 Texas and No. 23 Navy all suffered worse fates — losses.
No. 5 Alabama was never in such danger, beating Mississippi State 38-7. But it was far from a happy occasion.
Tweet length review of the game
Start fast, end sad. Tua Tagovailoa gave Alabama fans reason for both.
Did you know?
– Holding Mississippi State to 82 passing yards (12-for-21, no touchdowns and an interception) was UA’s best passing defense performance by yards allowed since Nov. 18, 2017 against Mercer. (Not including the game against The Citadel in 2018, since it is a triple option team that attempted just two passes.) It’s the best against a conference foe since holding Tennessee to 44 passing yards earlier in that 2017 season; even earlier in that season, UA held Vanderbilt to 38 passing yards.
– Since 2000, only 35 SEC receivers have had five 100-yard receiving games in a season. Jerry Jeudy got his fourth with a seven-catch, 114-yard performance against Mississippi State. If he were to have two more this season, he would be one of just 18 SEC receivers since 2000 to have six 100-yard games in a season.
– All Alabama punts attempted by players not named Ty Perine: 14 for an average of 34.4 yards, none 50 yards or longer. Perine’s punts: 9 for an average of 45.89 yards, three of them 50 yards or longer.
– Tagovailoa’s season ends with 180 completions on 252 attempts (71.4 percent) for 2,840 yards (11.3 yards per attempt), 33 touchdowns and three interceptions. He already holds the school record for passing yards in a season (3,966 last year), single-season passing touchdowns (43 last year), career passing touchdowns (87) and career completion percentage with a minimum of 200 completions (69.3 percent). If he chooses to enter the 2020 NFL Draft, he will leave UA sixth in school history in career attempts (684), fourth in completions (474), third in career passing yards (7,442) and fourth in lowest interception percentage (11 in 684 attempts, 1.6 percent).
– Seven penalties for 86 yards against Mississippi State continue this team on its pace to be the most penalized team of the Nick Saban era at UA. It is currently averaging 68.9 penalty yards per game; since 2009, only two teams have averaged more than 50 penalty yards per game (2018 and 2015) and neither of them average more than 60. This team has allowed 25 first downs by penalty this season, compared to 25 in the entire 2017 season and 21 in 2016.
– Another number to go with my story on third-down offense: 2019 Alabama is has a chance to be the best third-down offense in school history. UA’s school record book lists third-down conversion rate back to 1970, and none of them finished the season as high as UA’s current 53.72 percent. The 1973, 2014 and 2018 teams all finished at 52 percent.
What about this game will be remembered in January?
This one’s all about Tua, folks. The final game he played in 2019, the debate on if he should have played at all and the debate of if he should have been on the field for the possession that ended his season. This game will be marred with questions that have no right answers.
Quoting Nick Saban
– On running back Najee Harris: “He’s gained confidence all year long, the more he plays and the more success he has. He’s running the plays really efficiently and effectively, he’s a hard guy to tackle, he’s a really good receiver and he’s just done a really, really good job.”
– “The players had a great attitude. I think they came here with a sense of purpose in terms of what they wanted to do and I don’t think it made a lot of difference who we were playing today, they wanted to go out and compete. I think they’d had about enough of the talk and they wanted to go out and play, compete, get back on the field and do something positive.”
Quoting the Crimson Tide
– Jeudy on Tagovailoa: “I feel like he was just comfortable back there. He wasn’t focused too much on his ankle, he was just going out there and competing like he always does.”
– Xavier McKinney: “I thought we locked in on our keys and I thought we did our job. I felt like we still gave up too many big plays, but we can always get better at that.”
– McKinney on Shane Lee’s interception: “I saw he got tackled by the QB, I think. I was on him for that because he should’ve scored. That was a big play in the game.”
Quoting the opponent
– Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead: “Yeah, we had a good week of practice. We knew against a team of Alabama’s caliber we were going to have to come in and play a clean game and execute well. We had a few things go our way. Certainly spotting them a 14-0 lead within the first few minutes didn’t help.”
– Linebacker Erroll Thompson: “There’s still a lot of confidence knowing that we kind of control our destiny. With winning six games, we have to win out. It’s a big task ahead, but I feel like I have confidence in this coaching staff and my teammates, as well.”
– Quarterback Tommy Stevens: “I felt like we had a few plays that we were able to be explosive and have some success. We just had missed opportunities. We’re going to come in tomorrow, grade it, get better from it and move on.”
One man’s very arbitrary top four players of the game, in no particular order
– Tagovailoa: 14-18, 256 yards, two touchdowns. Tagovailoa left the 2019 Crimson Tide with a wonderful reminder of he electric he can be.
– Harris: 17 carries for 92 yards and three touchdowns, plus three catches for 51 yards and a touchdown. Harris is easily playing the best football of his Alabama career, to the point that the offense isn’t nearly as wide receiver dominant as it once was.
– Shane Lee: 10 tackles, one interception and a quarterback hurry. Saban’s primary observation of the defense was that it was solid outside of two explosive runs: 73 of MSU’s 188 rushing yards came on two carries from Tommy Stevens. Without those, MSU would have averaged 3.2 yards per carry, and Lee gets a good bit of credit for that — especially while playing behind a defensive line that was dropping like flies.
– DeVonta Smith: Six catches for 92 yards. The consistency of Smith is what’s made him such a useful weapon in the second half of the season: he’s had at least 90 receiving yards in four of his last six games.
Against the spread
There was no doubt on either side of this game: UA easily covered the 20 1/2-point spread, and the game never truly threatened the over/under line of 61 1/2.
The final home game of the season against Western Carolina, a game in which UA honors the seniors and gets them off the field by halftime.
Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or email@example.com or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson