Alabama 41, Mississippi State 0: Defense grounds Mike Leach's Air Raid; 11 catches for DeVonta Smith
Alabama continued its apparent march to the SEC Championship Game by joining the list of SEC defenses to ground Mike Leach’s Air Raid.
Here are three things we learned in No. 2 Alabama’s latest dominant showing, a 41-0 win over visiting Mississippi State on Saturday .
DeVonta Smith cannot be contained
By yards per attempt allowed and completion percentage allowed, Mississippi State (1-4) brought the best pass defense Alabama (6-0) had faced this season. No player since at least 2000 had amassed four receiving touchdowns on a Bulldogs defense in a single game, but Smith did it in little over than three quarters. He tied the school and SEC record for career receiving touchdowns, too.
Smith did it, and did it against a litany of defenders. Be it by formational needs to conscious decisions by Mississippi State’s defensive staff, several defensive backs had no answer for Smith.
His 11-catch, 203-yard performance pushed him to third in school history in career receiving yards. He entered Saturday eighth in the nation in receiving yards and is guaranteed to jump past injured teammate Jaylen Waddle, but could jump past others.
Last season, Smith was not a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation’s best pass catcher. That is almost certain to change this year.
Alabama’s defense has improved
Most of the principles of the Air Raid force opponents to tackle in space, which UA struggled with greatly in the opening games of the season. In holding to Mississippi State to 38 yards in the first half, it showed noticeable improvement in that aspect.
UA’s overall dominance of the offense kept Mississippi State from presenting tempo, another thing the Crimson Tide has struggled with this season, and Mississippi State does not run the run-pass options and other modern innovations that have given UA problems. This performance is not the coronation of a defense back to its form from seasons past, but it is a sign of improvement from the unit that allowed a record performance against Ole Miss just three weeks ago.
UA has real talent in freshmen defensive backs
Malachi Moore and Brian Branch battled each other for the starting star position in preseason camp, a battle which Moore won, but playing an Air Raid system allowed both to be on the field frequently in dime packages.
Both of them delivered. Each had two pass breakups and continued to show advanced coverage skills for their ages. Neither is consistently isolated in the same way that outside cornerbacks are, but both are producing early in their careers.
Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or email@example.com or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson