CECIL HURT: Alabama football keeps punchless Mississippi State Air Raid quiet with a shutout

Cecil Hurt

If Nick Saban’s birthday celebration was as exciting as the football game he coached Saturday night, he received some warm wool socks. Maybe some friends went in together and purchased him some cleaning supplies, maybe a nice belt sander.

There were no Halloween thrills at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saban’s 69th birthday, nothing to raise anyone’s blood pressure. Mississippi State (1-4), with a roster thinned by a week’s worth of attrition and by a first-quarter injury to starting quarterback K.J. Costello, didn't offer much resistance in a 41-0 Crimson Tide win.

Alabama (6-0) wasn’t perfect on offense. To the shock of nearly everyone, DeVonta Smith failed to catch one pass in the end zone despite getting his hands on it. He subsequently quelled fears that the sort-of drop was a sign of the end times by proceeding to catch four more touchdown passes to account for most of the Crimson Tide scoring and tie Amari Cooper’s all-time touchdown record. Even without Jaylen Waddle as a partner in receiving crime, Smith still takes what he wants out of the air. 

Alabama defensive lineman Phidarian Mathis (48) celebrates against Mississippi State at Bryant Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Saturday October 31, 2020.

Photo by University of Alabama

At some point in the future, Mike Leach will have a troublesome offense at Mississippi State but not in 2020. If Saturday was any indication, Alabama’s next opponent, LSU, is in offensive disarray and the opponent after that, Kentucky, would consider being in disarray as sort of an improvement. The only obstacle that seems to stand in Alabama’s way for the rest of the regular season is, suddenly and unexpectedly, Auburn. That’s a lot of looking ahead, but there wasn’t much else on Saturday to occupy the mind. Anyone who watched the entire ESPN broadcast was either a hard-core Alabama fan or had chosen a masochistic way to protest the absence of “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!” from the airwaves. There have been crazy, watchable games in 2020. This was not one. 

But there were no brawls (despite a couple of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and one photographer who got wiped out by Trey Sanders at the end of a run) like the one that erupted in the Florida-Missouri game. There just wasn’t that kind of fire.

The first-team Alabama defense didn’t allow any points, which might be the best place to put the analytic focus. The tackling was probably the best it has been all season, again with the qualifier that the Bulldogs are not blessed with explosive tackle-breakers. Saban isn’t likely to dish out much praise, though. He was a bit prickly all week and seems to be in full-on “one day at a time” mode. “Rat poison” has not been invoked, nor “joyless murderball,” which is less evident as Mac Jones takes sufficient deep shots (and how could a player nicknamed “The Joker” be entirely without joy?) When Alabama returns from a few needed days off, Saban will keep pushing hard in practice. Ten penalties will be a theme. He’s been here before and that’s how he usually handles things.

As far as Halloween excitement, though, maybe Saban was able to use his new sander when he got home.

Reach Cecil Hurt at or via Twitter @cecilhurt