INSTANT ANALYSIS: Alabama battles back to beat Mississippi State
STARKVILLE, Miss. — No. 2 Alabama will have to wait until Tuesday before it officially reclaims its spot as the top team in college football. The Crimson Tide didn’t always look like a No. 1 team on Saturday, but it did enough to survive, beating No. 16 Mississippi State 31-24.
Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts led a thrilling comeback, hitting freshman receiver Devonta Smith on a 26-yard touchdown strike to put Alabama up 31-24 with 25 seconds remaining. The play capped off a six-play, 68-yard game-winning drive for the Crimson Tide.
After trailing Mississippi State 24-17 early in the third quarter, Alabama rallied late. Hurts picked up a crucial fourth-and-four at the Mississippi State 34-yard line to extend a game-tying drive capped off by a 14-yard run from Damien Harris two plays later. The Crimson Tide then had a chance to take the lead on its next possession, but kicker Andy Pappanastos’ 40-yard field goal attempt hit off the left upright. A three-and-out from Mississippi State set up the game-winning drive.
Earlier in the day, No. 1 Georgia fell to No. 10 Auburn, 40-17. A Georgia win would have allowed Alabama (10-0, 7-0) to clinch its fourth straight SEC West title. Instead, the Crimson Tide will look to lock up the division in two weeks when it travels to Auburn for a winner-take-all Iron Bowl.
Saturday’s win was Alabama’s 10th straight over Mississippi State (7-3, 3-3). The Crimson Tide now has double-digit winning streaks against four different SEC opponents as Arkansas and Tennessee have each lost 11 straight games against the Crimson Tide while Vanderbilt has dropped its last 22 meetings. The victory also moves Alabama to double-digit wins in a season for the 10th straight year, dating back to head coach Nicks Saban’s second year at the helm in 2008 when Alabama went undefeated en route to Saban’s first national championship with the Crimson Tide.
Here are some notes from Saturday’s game:
Hurts has Bulldogs' number again
On a night when Alabama needed him the most, Jalen Hurts delivered better than he has all season. The sophomore quarterback seemed to have an answer for each of Mississippi State’s big plays, allowing the Crimson Tide to punch back after falling behind twice in the first half.
Hurts finished the night 10 of 19 for 242 yards and a touchdown. He also added 40 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. More importantly, it was when he made his big plays that mattered most. Hurts hit Calvin Ridley on a pass of 60 yards or more on each of Alabama’s possessions following Mississippi State touchdowns in the first half.
First came a 63-yard pass in the first quarter as Ridley got to the Mississippi State 6-yard line before going down. That would set up a 1-yard touchdown run from Hurts two plays later. Hurts then found Ridley again hitting his receiver for a 61-yard gain in the second quarter, setting up a 1-yard touchdown run from running back Josh Jacobs on the next play to tie the game at 14.
Outside of the game-winning touchdown, Hurts’ biggest moment came with Alabama trailing 24-17 with 10:55 remaining in the fourth quarter. Facing a fourth-and-4 from the Mississippi State 34-yard line, Hurts tucked the ball and ran 13 yards to pick up a first down. Two plays later, running back Damien Harris ran in a 14-yard touchdown to tie the game at 24.
Hurts is no stranger to success against the Bulldogs. During last year’s 51-3 win over Mississippi State, Hurts completed 28 of 37 passes for 347 yards and four touchdowns with one interception while also accounting for 100 yards and a score on the ground. It was the first time an Alabama quarterback had thrown for 300 or more yards and rushed for 100 more yards in the same game.
Mississippi State runs over Alabama's defense
Mississippi State running back Aeris Williams’ 11-yard touchdown in the first quarter was unique in two ways. It was the Bulldogs first touchdown against Alabama since 2014. It also gave Mississippi State an early 7-0 lead, marking the first time the Crimson Tide had trailed in a game since falling behind 3-0 in the first quarter against Texas A&M on Oct. 7 earlier this year.
When Williams scored again on a 5-yard run to put Mississippi State up again in the second quarter it was equally surprising. Williams’ second score marked the first time Alabama had allowed two rushing touchdowns in one game to a single rusher since the 2015 Sugar Bowl, when former Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliot ran for 230 yards and two touchdowns in a 42-35 victory for the Buckeyes.
Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald added a 2-yard run in the third quarter to put Mississippi State up 21-17. That was also a milestone as it marked the first time Alabama gave up three touchdowns on the ground since the 2006 Independence Bowl against Oklahoma State.
The Bulldogs finished the game with 172 yards on the ground, the most Alabama has allowed all season.
Third downs were almost killer
Mississippi State was able to extend several drives with key plays on third down. The Bulldogs finished the night converting 8 of 15 its third-down attempts, six of those conversions came on Mississippi State’s three touchdown drives. Conversely, Alabama finished just 3 of 10 on third down. However, it’s worth noting Hurts completed a 31-yard pass to Ridley on third-and-15 to set up the game-winning touchdown pass.
Another 100-yard game for Ridley
Ridley’s five catches for 171 yards marks the seventh time in his career he has topped 100 yards in a game. That ranks No. 4 all-time at Alabama. Julio Jones (2008-10) is third on the UA career list with eight 100-yard games.