10 takeaways: Alabama Crimson Tide beats Mississippi State, 38-7
STARKVILLE, Miss. — Here are 10 takeaways from No. 5 Alabama's 38-7 victory over Mississippi State.
1. Najee Harris is now Alabama’s biggest weapon
Alabama confirmed reports that Tua Tagovailoa dislocated his hip and will miss the remainder of the season. As the Crimson Tide laments over losing its starting quarterback, it will look to find another player to motor its high-powered offense.
Right now, the best candidate for that role seems to be Najee Harris. The junior running back continued his recent assault on opposing defenses Saturday, ripping off 88 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries while pulling in three receptions for 51 yards and another score through the air.
Harris became the first Alabama player to score three touchdowns in the first quarter of a single game, running in scores from 10 yards and 5 yards out while hauling in a 19-yard touchdown from Tagovailoa. He later found the end zone on a 5-yard run in the second quarter to mark the first four-touchdown game of his career. Harris became the first Alabama running back since Mark Ingram in 2009 to record both a receiving touchdown and a rushing touchdown in back-to-back games.
Harris has six receiving touchdowns through 10 games, setting Alabama’s single-season record for most by a running back.
“He has gained confidence all year long,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said after Saturday’s game. “The more he plays, the more success he has. He is running the plays very efficiently and effectively. He’s a hard guy to tackle. He’s a really good receiver.
“He’s just done a really, really good job and I’m really pleased with the way he has played the last couple of weeks.”
2. Alabama has confidence in Mac Jones
Alabama’s offense didn’t have the same flow once Mac Jones entered the game for Tagovailoa in the second half. However, the redshirt sophomore put up solid numbers. Jones completed his first seven passes of the game and finished 7 of 11 for 94 yards as the Crimson Tide ran out the clock late.
“I thought Mac did a good job in the game," Saban said. "I thought he had the right mindset. He practiced well all week, and he was well prepared for the game. And we had confidence in him to go in and play today”
Jones filled in for Tagovailoa against Arkansas earlier this season while the starter was nursing a high-ankle sprain. During that game, Jones completed 18 of 22 passes for 235 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
“We’ve got a great level of confidence in Mac,” receiver Jerry Jeudy said. “He’s been practicing real good. He’s been practicing with the ones a lot, doing everything he’s supposed to do. We’ve got tremendous confidence in Mac.”
3. How will CFP committee view Alabama without Tua?
Alabama might be confident in Jones, but it will be interesting to see how the College Football Playoff committee views the Crimson Tide without its Heisman contender at quarterback.
With LSU one win away from clinching the SEC West title, Alabama’s pursuit of a sixth straight appearance in the College Football Playoff will all but certainly come without a conference championship. Therefore, the Crimson Tide will have to prove to the committee that it is unequivocally one of the top four teams in the nation.
That seemed like an attainable feat with Tagovailoa behind center. However, Alabama seems quite a bit less convincing with Jones. Of course, that could change if the right-hander puts up a dominating performance over the next two games, especially when Alabama travels to Auburn on Nov. 30 for the Iron Bowl.
4. Tagovailoa receives plenty of support following injury
Tagovailoa’s injury was the talk of the sporting world Saturday. While the left-hander might have seen his college career come to a close, he received plenty of prayers and well wishes from notable names across the nation.
Here’s a look at a few:
Tagovailoa was touched by the responses and later sent out a tweet thanking everyone for the support.
Thank you all for the prayers and well wishes! God always has a plan 🙏🏽— Tua. T 🇦🇸 (@Tuaamann) November 17, 2019
5. Alabama’s defense responded
Following one of its worst displays of the Saban era, Alabama’s defense rebounded in a big way Saturday. The Crimson Tide held the Bulldogs to 270 yards, including just 92 yards in the first half.
In its past two games combined against Mississippi State, the Crimson Tide has held the Bulldogs to 439 total yards. Alabama has held 23 of its last 39 opponents (59 percent) below 300 yards, dating back to the start of the 2017 season.
Saturday’s game featured a career-high 10 tackles from Shane Lee. The freshman linebacker also recorded his first career interception on Mississippi State’s opening play of the game.
6. Alabama wins the third-down battle
Alabama dominated when it mattered Saturday. The Crimson Tide was 6 of 10 on third downs while holding Mississippi State to 3 of 12.
Four of Alabama’s third-down conversions came with 8 or more yards to go until the first-down marker. All of those occurred on touchdown-scoring drives.
“That’s been something we’ve done a good job of all year long,” Saban said. “We don’t really want to create those situations, and especially in this game because we felt like that’s their MO as a team, try to give you negative plays, try to get you in third-and-long. Then they’ve got a pretty exotic third-down package of a lot of odd, different pressures that they try to heat you up with. So we were trying to avoid these situations today, but I know we overcame some.”
7. Jeudy finding his old form
After a string of five straight games with fewer than 100 yards earlier in the year, Jeudy is once again looking like the receiver who won last year’s Biletnikoff Award. The junior pulled in a team-high seven receptions for 114 yards against Mississippi State, reaching the century mark for the fourth time this season and second time in the past three games.
Three of Jeudy’s catches Saturday came on third down, while five went for 10 yards or more. Through 10 games, he has 867 yards and nine touchdowns on a team-high 64 receptions.
8. Alabama holds Hill
Mississippi State running back Kylin Hill entered Saturday’s game leading the SEC in rushing with 1,027 yards through nine games. The 5-foot-11, 215-pound back was coming off a game against Arkansas in which he rushed for a career-best 234 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries.
Alabama was able to hold Hill to just 35 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries before he left the game with an upper-body injury in the third quarter.
9. Other injuries
Tagovailoa wasn’t the only Alabama player to go down to injury. Defensive linemen Raekwon Davis (sprained ankle) and D.J. Dale (twisted knee) as well as receiver Henry Ruggs III (bruised ribs) all left the game and were unable to return.
Davis was carted to the locker room before the half after he could not put pressure on his left leg. Dale left the game in the first quarter and was seen walking gingerly after the game. Ruggs was hit hard during the third quarter and had to walk slowly off the field.
Alabama will host FCS foe West Carolina next week before traveling to Auburn.
10. Penalties are still a problem for Alabama
Penalties were once again a problem for Alabama. The Crimson Tide was flagged seven times for 86 yards against Mississippi State, bringing its season total up to 77 fouls resulting in 689 yards.
Ultimately, the penalties had little outcome in Alabama’s blowout win. However, they still proved to be annoying.
Davis was called for a 15-yard facemask after the Crimson Tide stopped the Bulldogs on third-and-6 from the Alabama 37. Mississippi State went on to score its only touchdown of the game four plays later. A roughing the passer penalty by Xavier McKinney then extended a Mississippi State drive later in the game.
“We had some poor judgments and poor decisions in penalties, which created some negative situations we had to overcome. In some cases we did,” Saban said. “It’s the same old stuff. You want guys to play with emotion but you don’t want guys to be emotional and make bad decisions, and we need to do a better job of that. The penalties have been a problem. It’s very disappointing to me that we can’t make better decisions about when the whistle blows to stop playing. We’re just going to keep working on it; obviously we’re emphasizing it.”