As the crowd of alumni looked on, the Crimson Tide took the Bulldogs down by the scant margin of 31 points in the 38-7 Homecoming performance. While the scoreboard reflected total domination, there were other aspects of the game that were not as impressive.
Overall, the performance validated the Tide at the top of the rankings, but it also left room for speculation as to how beatable Alabama truly is in 2012.
*Stats not from memory are from ESPN.com
Overall Grade: A-
A.J. McCarron went a modest 16/23 for 208 yards and two touchdowns in yet another zero-interception performance of the 2012 season. McCarron's streak of attempts without an interception now stands at 262. Colby Cameron of the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs is the only other FBS quarterback not to have thrown an interception so far this season. While McCarron's performance was eye-opening at times, his overall performance left something to be desired.
With 3:27 left in the first quarter, McCarron hit Kenny Bell in stride for a 57-yard touchdown strike. Most of that yardage was covered in the air, not to take anything away from Bell. McCarron has shown flashes of brilliance throughout this season. The more he shows us, the easier it becomes to believe that there is an unpublicized “21-Point Rule.” (Once Alabama is up by 21, the passing game is calmed down.)
After the coaching staff took things down a notch and favored the running game heavily, McCarron started throwing his incompletions (incompletions are never on purpose, just to clarify that I'm not accusing Saban of something that bad). However, completing 69.6 percent of one's passes is nothing to sneeze at. It's even over his season average of 68.8 by a hair.
It must also be taken into account that he was playing against one of the better defenses in the nation at the time. It was surprising to see the Tide go completely scoreless for the entire third quarter, though. He seemed beaten by the Mississippi State defense throughout the third quarter. He wasn't the only one, though.
Overall Grade: B
The Tide's corps of tailbacks tagged Mississippi State for 179 yards on the ground. T.J. Yeldon went for 86 yards on 10 carries, Eddie Lacy gained 26 yards on 10 carries (also adding four receptions for 51 additional yards) and Kenyan Drake amassed 47 yards on eight touches.
While the Mississippi State defense stacked the box to stop the run, a lot of the time it wasn't necessary. There were repeated instances of the Tide tailbacks running into their own blockers for little or no yardage. (While "repeated" may be too strong of a word there, it seemed to occur quite often.)
The biggest points in favor of the tailbacks were their participation in the blocking aspect of the game and their ability not to fumble the ball. The Tide committed zero turnovers in the entire game.
Overall Grade: A
Yes, everyone would love to see a game where McCarron completes 100 percent of his passes. That is far too much to ask from Alabama when the opponent is an undefeated SEC team in the ninth week of the season, regardless of which team it happens to be.
Alabama's three leading wide receivers against the Bulldogs were Kenny Bell (one 57-yard touchdown reception), Amari Cooper (four receptions, 47 yards) and Christion Jones (one 22-yard catch). These guys were doing more than simply catching the ball, too. They were diving to catch well-placed passes, which had to be thrown short in order to avoid being sent into coverage.
While it wasn't an Oregon-like display of offense, it was highly effective in a different manner.
This is the catch as he backpedaled out of the end zone.
Overall Grade: A+
These guys could almost never be found missing blocking assignments, and they were all over the field sealing the edge for quarterback runs, playing decoy in the passing game and pulling to block for tailbacks sweeping to the weak side for big gains.
Michael Williams even outperformed some wide receivers by taking in five passes for 38 yards. One of those passes was a touchdown he caught while he was backpedaling out of the end zone a bit off-balance.
Overall Grade: B+
McCarron was sacked twice, but neither sack was completely on the offensive line. I wouldn't go so far as to say they were “bad sacks,” but all members of the line were actively blocking defenders. Someone either missed a blocking assignment, or McCarron simply wasn't straight on how fast he was supposed to get rid of the ball in certain situations. (This is another reason I don't like it when coaches slow the game down for clock management, especially early in the game.)
Overall, the offensive line did what it wanted to do with the Bulldogs. McCarron had all the time in the world to throw the ball for the controlling majority of the game. Other than that, the only beef with the offensive line was the plethora of "false start" penalties. They ate up a little yardage with those silly little things.
Overall Grade: B+
The line was off-and-on with the pressurization of Tyler Russell. Not all high pressure is supposed to come from the line, but the constant pressure that eats away at the psyche of the opposing quarterback is supposed to come from the defensive line. While these guys did occupy the Bulldogs' offensive line all night, there were no sacks by any lineman and very little consistency in pressure throughout the night.
The line did earn its solid grade by combining with the linebackers to completely take the bite out of the Bulldogs' rushing attack. Mississippi State had logged a whopping 47 yards on 21 attempts when the final whistle had blown. They might, might be able to get away with a below-Tide-average pass rush against LSU, but that will not be successful during the postseason.
Overall Grade: B
Denzel Devall took advantage of the defensive line's knack for occupying the Bulldogs' offensive line and pushed through the hole for a giant eight-yard-loss sack. After that, it was slightly downhill for the rest of the game. Mississippi State had far too much success completing passes.
Granted, the Tide were robbed of one interception by a referee. No, not a bad call, the pass actually hit the referee standing between the ball and the would-be interceptor.
I don't think there has been a game this season more “B-rated” overall than the Mississippi State game. The saving grace for the entire list of grades was the fact that the scoreboard was blank for the Bulldogs until Alabama has backups all over the field. Of course, if Alabama can shut out a BCS Top-15 team playing its “B” game, imagine what would happen if the Tide's potential were reached for a solid 60 minutes.
Overall Grade: B
Dee Milliner was a little overexcited in this game. A pass interference penalty was called against him on the Mississippi State drive that followed Alabama's 57-yard strike to Kenny Bell. Other than that, Alabama displayed an almost perfect example of the “bend, don't break” philosophy all night long. The Tide essentially allowed the Bulldogs to get anywhere they wanted except the all-important end zone. Anyone who's been watching Nick Saban's teams over the past few years knows that's not his style.
That means there were mistakes all over the field. Tyler Russell is already a talented quarterback, he doesn't need any help from broken coverages. The reason the secondary's grade is this high is because it is the last line of defense for the end zone, and the defensive backs picked up some slack in every single quarter in order to keep the Bulldogs from scoring.
Most notably, Robert Lester's interception in the end zone was a huge turnaround for the third quarter. Alabama started its first scoring drive of the second half off that interception.
Overall Grade: B+
Special teams has been engineered by Saban and company to have every opportunity to improve kick coverage, field goals and kick returns all year. Toward the end of this game, all those short kicks that didn't go into the end zone seemed to have paid off. This unit's fourth-quarter performance was virtuoso. Cody Mandell managed to land a punt right on a Bulldog's back, which allowed the Tide to recover its own punt. That gave Alabama seven points three plays later.
The kickoff following that touchdown was returned by State for 39 yards (bad), fumbled (good) and recovered by Alabama (really good) on the Mississippi State 43. That led to a touchdown by the Tide as well.
(Note to LSU Mom: Landon Collins recovered that special teams fumble by Mississippi State and made himself a mini-hero for the Tide in front of the Homecoming crowd.)
Overall Grade: B+
Nick Saban is one of the greatest coaches of all time. Kirby Smart is one of the greatest coordinators of all time as well. The jury is still out on Doug Nussmeier, but he's done nothing to give me pause at this point in time.
Now that that's out of the way, we can move on to the issues at hand. Earlier, I brought up a possible “21-Point Rule” that the staff appears to be following. Could we please stop that? Given the intensity that Alabama plays with up until a certain point, it's hard to believe that this isn't originating in the management section of the team.
If that happens, all the play-calling issues will go away. While it's necessary to run the ball to weaken an opponent's defense, is it necessary to stubbornly call two or three rushes back-to-back on a three-and-out? It's difficult to believe that McCarron is that bad at decision-making. If he were, Blake Sims or Phillip Ely would probably getting more field time. Of course, we all realize that there were two NFL players in the secondary on Mississippi State's side of the ball, so it could have simply been coverage that was that good.
For the most part, the coaches hit all the necessary adjustments and were yelling at all the right people. The game plan just seemed to be a little off at times. Overall, it was a great performance on everyone's part that ended in a 38-7 Tide victory. Top grades all across the board for the result on the scoreboard, though.